Gov. issues 1st line-item veto in wrongful imprisonment bill, signs snow day forgiveness

    A State Police officer rides into the snowstorm | Michael Gerstein

    Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed two bills on Friday — one improving transparency in the state’s Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Fund in which she issued her first line-item veto and another unexpectedly controversial bill forgiving four make-up days for Michigan schools.

    House Bill 4286, sponsored by state Rep. Steve Johnson (R-Wayland), which passed unanimously through both the state House and Senate, will require Attorney General Dana Nessel to file quarterly reports outlining all payments made from the fund in addition to its number of pending claims and current balance. It is now Public Act 10 of 2019.

    Gretchen Whitmer speaking at the MML Capital Conference, 2019 | Michigan Municipal League photo, Flickr

    In keeping with an executive directive from earlier this year, Whitmer vetoed a subsection of the bill that would have appropriated $10 million to the fund, citing her claim in that directive that such appropriation “circumvents [voters’] right to a referendum.”

    “State government must be open, transparent and accountable because taxpayers deserve to know where their tax dollars are going,” Whitmer said in a statement of the bill’s core purpose. “This bill will help restore trust in our state government by requiring a higher standard of transparency and ensure that the state meets its commitment to those who were wrongfully convicted.”

    The Advance reported in March on the Michigan House’s efforts to appropriate the vetoed $10 million, one-fifth of which would have gone to 72-year-old Richard Phillips, the state’s longest-serving exoneree who served 46 years in prison for a murder he was found not to have committed.

    A prison cell
    Creative Commons

    At the time, the House Fiscal Agency reported that the fund’s balance was just over $300,000. In the statement announcing the bill’s signing, Whitmer’s office noted she included a $10 million appropriation to the Wrongful Imprisonment and Compensation Fund in both the fiscal years 2019 and 2020 budgets and “would support an appropriation of money to the fund in a supplemental appropriations bill or a general appropriations bill.”

    Whitmer also signed into law HB 4206 that will formally allow Michigan schools to skip four previously planned make-up days at the end of the school year after extreme low temperatures forced school closures in late January and early February.

    The bill sponsored by state Rep. Ben Frederick (R-Owosso) reached Whitmer’s desk after an unusual legislative clash where Democrats held off on its passage until they received assurance workers would be paid for the lost time.

    Creative Commons

    Whitmer said that bill “will provide certainty to families and school districts who need to prepare for the end of the school year, but we need to get serious about tackling this problem in the future and ensuring that students receive a quality education.”

    Whitmer signed the bill while speaking at the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education’s annual policy conference in Novi.

    Derek Robertson
    Derek Robertson covers local government, education, health care and the social safety net, and LGBTQ issues. Previously, he wrote for Politico Magazine in Washington, and before that covered local politics in Chicago. He is a Genesee County native and graduate of both Wayne State University, where he studied history, and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He enjoys film, the Detroit Pistons and his cat. He once competed in the National Spelling Bee, but was eliminated before any potential ESPN appearances.

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