Bills you may have missed: Hate crimes expansion, judicial age limits and medical experiments on dogs

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With the fast-moving nature of politics and the legislative process, it’s safe to say that many of the lesser-known legislative happenings tend to get overlooked.

In an effort to give some recent bills the coverage that they deserve, here is this week’s roundup of recently introduced legislation you might have missed.

Expanding Michigan’s hate crimes law

Currently, the section of Michigan’s penal code defines ethnic intimidation (commonly known as “hate crimes”) as violence and threats based on someone’s race, color, religion, gender or national origin. Senate Bill 593, sponsored by state Sen. Adam Hollier (D-Detroit), would expand that definition to include gender identity and sexual orientation.

Michigan State Police adds gender identity hate crime category

This would ensure that LGBTQ individuals in Michigan would be protected under the state’s hate crime law, should they become the target of violence or intimidation based on their identity.

“What we’ve seen with transgender individuals is that they are being targeted by people who don’t like how they live, and that’s not something that these individuals chose,” Hollier told NPR Monday. “It’s how they are.”

State Sen. Adam Hollier
Adam Hollier

Ethnic intimidation is a felony punishable by imprisonment of up to two years and/or a fine of up to $5,000 in Michigan.

Hollier’s bill to amend the state’s penal code was introduced Oct. 17 and referred to the Senate Committee on Government Operations, which is where Democratic bills tend to go to die.

Axing mandated retirement for judges

Since 1955, the Michigan Constitution has required state justices and judges to retire once they reach age 70. House Bill 4696 and House Joint Resolution O, sponsored by state Rep. Tommy Brann (R-Wyoming), would amend the Constitution to eliminate this age restriction.

“Reputable and well-respected judges should not be forced to stop serving just because they reach a certain age,” Brann said in a statement, adding that he is 67 years old and is “not planning on slowing down anytime soon.”

Brann said when the language for an age limit was added to the Michigan Constitution 64 years ago, the average life expectancy for Americans was just 70 years old. As of 2017, the average U.S. life expectancy is now closer to 79 years old, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

Tommy Brann

A mandatory judicial retirement age exists in 33 states and the District of Columbia, according to the most recent data available from Ballotpedia. Most of those states impose an age limit of 70, like Michigan, while others range from 72 to 75 years old. Vermont holds the oldest mandatory retirement age at 90 years old.

Brann’s proposal would align Michigan judges more with U.S. Supreme Court justices, many of whom serve well past 70. The oldest currently serving SCOTUS justices are ages 71 (Clarence Thomas), 81 (Stephen Breyer) and 86 (Ruth Bader Ginsburg).

Brann also argues if judges are no longer fit for the bench, there are already effective measures in place, aside from an age restriction like the Judicial Tenure Commission that oversees judicial conduct.

Since the legislation amends the Constitution, it would require the approval of two-thirds of both the state House and Senate to move forward. If it did pass both chambers, the resolution would be ultimately decided by voters at the ballot box.

The measures have been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.

Halting medical experiments on dogs

Earlier this month, state Rep. Sara Cambensy (D-Marquette) introduced a bill that would make it illegal for Michigan public universities to perform experiments on dogs “in a manner that causes pain and distress.”

Sarah Cambensy

The introduction of House Bill 5090 stems from long-standing concerns regarding procedures at Wayne State University, in which faculty and staff have been conducting heart failure and hypertension experiments on live dogs since 1991. These experiments have often involved surgeries and the implantation of devices into the dogs’ bodies to study and replicate cardiovascular conditions in humans.

The university has consistently denied the allegations of animal abuse.

The legislation would not apply to the use of dogs in nonlethal clinical research or veterinary training for which the dog’s guardian has consented.

House Bill 5090 is backed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), as well as the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). PCRM is a nonprofit organization which has long advocated for alternatives to the use of animals in research. The Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV), a no-kill shelter in Washtenaw County, also has expressed support for the legislation.

According to the PCRM – which has previously engaged in a number of lawsuits with Wayne State over the issue – university records have shown that up to one-quarter of the dogs experimented on are expected to die during or shortly after the procedures.

Supporters of the bill also argue that experiments on dogs have not proven beneficial enough for humans to continue the practice. 

“We can improve human health without hurting dogs,” Cambensy says in a video posted to the PCRM YouTube channel on Oct. 9.

Actress Lily Tomlin, who attended Wayne State, wrote a letter of protest against the university’s treatment of dogs in 2015.

Cambensy’s bill was referred to the Committee on Agriculture on Oct. 8.

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