by Scott McClallen
Three Republican lawmakers are angry after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday exercised a “pocket veto” on a bill seeking to allow some first-time driving under the influence (DUI) or operating while intoxicated (OWI) charges expunged.
Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Graham Filler, R-DeWitt, tweeted Monday that Whitmer would allow Senate Bill 1254 to die via “pocket veto,” meaning she won’t sign or veto it within the required 14-day window.
Filler said Whitmer did not explain why, and her office didn’t respond to a comment request.
“The bill was not opposed by the Governor’s office in the Senate or the House,” Filler tweeted. “This is a bad veto and harms Michiganders,” he wrote.
“Expungement helps people get jobs/educational opportunities and move on from their mistakes,” he continued. “OWI expungement would have had a massive impact and helped thousands of Michigan citizens. So I ask again, what is our Governor doing?”
The plan aimed to offer expungements to residents convicted of first-time OWI charges if the crime didn’t cause injury or death.
Bill sponsor Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Waucedah Township, called the veto “a terrible mistake” and said he wanted to revisit the bill in 2021 “because one bad mistake made long ago shouldn’t sideline someone from pursuing their slice of the American dream.”
“It frankly doesn’t make much sense that the governor chose to sign similar legislation letting first-time marijuana or sex crime convictions to be set aside, for example, but not to allow set-asides for people with one OWI conviction,” McBroom said in a statement.
“If a person has served their time and paid their debts to society, it is in the best interest of everyone that they get back on their feet and become productive members of society.”
An individual with a first-time DUI that didn’t cause injury or death could have applied to a judge for expungement.
Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, questioned why Whitmer signed bills into law allowing some felonies to be expunged but not a first-time misdemeanor.
“These individuals deserve a chance to learn and move on from their past mistakes, much like other nonviolent offenders with the same opportunities,” LaFave said in a statement.
“The signing of this legislation would have been especially beneficial in rural Michigan, where there aren’t as many jobs or housing options to begin with. We should be encouraging people to live here and raise their families, to work, and give back to the community. It doesn’t make sense that Gov. Whitmer would be opposed to such a beneficial measure yet be supportive of other criminal justice reforms.”
Under the bill, law enforcement could have still accessed a record of expunged DUIs.
The bills garnered support from former Republican House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack, and Democrat Attorney General Dana Nessel.
The bill previously passed 96-8 in the House and 32-5 in the Senate.
Whitmer signed into law Monday far-ranging criminal justice reforms to ease the employability of Michiganders with a criminal record and keep nonviolent criminals out of jail.
The criminal justice reform push aligned with University of Michigan Law school research that concluded people who receive expungements see a 23% increase in income within a year.
In 2019, there were about 30,000 arrests for operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The bill aimed to give thousands of Michiganders a second chance who made a mistake that might haunt their record for life.
On Tuesday, Whitmer tweeted, “I’m proud of the work our administration has done to reform our criminal justice system.”
Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.