Early voting, beer in college stadiums await Whitmer’s signature
- A panel of six lawmakers plan to meet Wednesday to iron out the state’s budget for the next fiscal year
- Meanwhile, state lawmakers cleared the deck Tuesday
- Early voting, in-stadium alcohol sales and more will soon head to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk
LANSING — Michigan lawmakers approved a series of measures Tuesday, clearing the deck for final budget actions scheduled to begin on Wednesday.
Legislators approved a package to implement Proposal 2, a constitutional amendment approved by voters in November to expand voting access.
They also passed other policies, allowing public universities to sell alcoholic drinks in stadiums on game day, banning child marriage and providing protections for sexual assault victims.
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While the House adjourned late Tuesday afternoon, Senate lawmakers are planning to pass more bills Tuesday evening.
Conference committees — where a panel of six lawmakers appointed by Senate and House leaders will finalize the budget deals — are scheduled to meet Wednesday, said Amber McCann, spokesperson for House Speaker Joe Tate, D-Detroit.
A budget vote could come as soon as Wednesday.
Here’s a quick look at what the state Legislature approved Tuesday:
Child marriage banned
Michigan will soon become the ninth state in the country to ban child marriage upon Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s signature.
The Senate greenlit a 10-bill package that would repeal a longstanding law that allows 16-year-olds to be married as long as they have written parental consent. The package would set the legal marriage age at 18 years old and strip an exception for minors to get married if they have both judicial and parental consent.
Rep. Kara Hope, a Holt Democrat and major sponsor of the package, previously noted that researchers estimated there were more than 5,000 minors who were married between 2000 and 2018, with the majority being young girls married to adult men.
Supporters of the ban have argued that minors are often forced into unwanted relationships, which could be ground for sexual abuse.
On May 4, members of the advocacy group Unchained at Last dressed up in wedding gowns at the state Capitol and urged lawmakers to abolish child marriage.
“Child marriage undermines our statutory rape laws and it gives a get out of jail free card to child rapists,” said Fraidy Reiss, founder of Unchained at Last, at the protest.
Alcohol in stadiums
The House voted 85-23 Tuesday to send a bill allowing in-stadium alcohol sales in Michigan universities to Whitmer.
The bill, backed by several public universities and liquor trade associations, would allow college stadiums to serve alcohol on game day, stretching from an hour before the game to 30 minutes after the game concludes.
If Whitmer signs the bill, Michigan State University and University of Michigan would join 11 of the 14 Big Ten Conference universities in selling alcohol in college stadiums. The bill could also mean millions of dollars in revenue, although it would likely account for a small share of the hundreds of millions in athletic department revenue for MSU and UM.
Supporters argue allowing alcohol in stadiums would improve the fan experience and solve an equity concern, since VIP guests can currently access alcohol in their suites.
They have also said the policy would discourage fans from loading up on alcohol beforehand and reduce binge drinking incidents, which could lead to ejections and fights, since fans would know they have access to drinks in stadiums and feel less pressure to drink up ahead of the game.
Researchers, however, told Bridge Michigan last week there is no consensus among scholars on whether the policy reduces frontloading. Most of the studies reviewed by Bridge show no significant change in fans’ drinking behaviors at colleges that allowed alcohol sales in stadiums.
Rep. Jimmie Wilson Jr, D-Ypsilanti, said Tuesday the bill would ultimately "enhance public safety" through regulations while still promoting fairness and freedom."
But Rep. Abraham Aiyash, D-Hamtramck, criticized the plan, questioning whether lawmakers should "make our fans drunk in the middle of a beautiful sports match that so many of us enjoy here in the great state of Michigan."
You can enjoy sports "with a nice glass of coke or a bottle of water," Aiyash said. "And tailgates usually accomplish the goal of getting folks warmed up before the game."
Lawmakers on Tuesday approved a combination of Senate and House bills to implement Proposal 2. The bills will now head to Whitmer.
The package, split evenly between the Senate and the House, would allow up to 29 days of voting and allow absentee ballots to be counted up to eight days before Election Day in certain localities.
The main legislation — SB367 — would also establish election day voting centers, allow voters themselves to insert their absentee ballots into tabulators at an early voting site and require election inspectors to lock early voting sites and secure ballots and tabulators.
Other bills in the package would expand voter access to ballot drop boxes, allow registered voters to receive absentee vote ballots in the future unless they opt out or no longer qualify to vote in Michigan, enhance penalties for those who disclose election results from early voting sites before election day, and more.
Early voting could cost the state and local governments a combination of $49.3 million in one-time funds and $13.3 million every year, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency.
Rep. Penelope Tsernoglou, an East Lansing Democrat who chairs the House Election Committee, said Tuesday the bills are an opportunity to “implement the will of the voters in the best way possible, providing our clerks and election workers with the guidance and flexibility they need to make these constitutional mandates our reality and forever change and expand voting access for every Michigan voter.”
All House Republicans present for the vote Tuesday voted against the Senate version of the bills. In a Tuesday evening statement, House Minority Leader Matt Hall, R-Richland Township, argued the legislation would undermine election integrity but benefit Democrats.
“House Democrats are continuing their push to chip away at most basic voter security protections and let left-wing organizations create an uneven playing field,” he said.
The House also approved a bill Tuesday to allow teens in Michigan to pre-register to vote at age 16. They still wouldn’t be able to vote until 18 under the bill.
Sexual assault victims protection approved
Upon Whitmer’s approval, a series of bills offering more protections for sexual assault victims and enhance penalties for culprits will become law immediately in Michigan.
The bipartisan eight-bill package — SB66-73 — will take effect six years after the conviction of Larry Nassar, a former U.S. women’s gymnastics team doctor and former Michigan State University physician who sexually assaulted hundreds of girls and women under the guise of medical treatments.
The package will:
- require public schools to hand out educational materials about sexual assault;
- restrict health professionals from performing treatments around a minor’s vaginal or anal area;
- enhance penalties for health professionals who lie to their patients about their sexual contact or penetration, and
- exempt documents that would identify sexual assault victims who don’t want to be identified from public disclosure.
Sen. Ruth Johnson, a Holly Republican and sponsor for one of the bills, noted Tuesday the package has been a long time coming. The package was first introduced in 2018 following Nassar’s conviction.
“I am proud to once again be part of this important package to support sexual assault survivors and protect our children from these heinous acts, and I look forward to finally seeing the reforms signed into law,” Johnson said in a statement.
“It is great to see such bipartisan support for doing everything possible to protect our children from sexual predators.”
Another sexual assault victim protection measure — SB236 — was also approved by the Senate on Tuesday and is now headed to Whitmer. It would make it easier to charge those who sexually assault someone who is drugged or drunk.
Jonathan Oosting contributed reporting.
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