Gun Violence Survivors Pack Senate During Hearing on Firearms Package
As reported by Gongwer, tears and anger dominated pleas from students and family members of gun violence survivors urging senators to enact changes to state gun laws in testimony Thursday on bills introduced following the Michigan State University mass shooting.

A Senate committee is considering legislation that would implement universal background checks, a requirement for safe storage of firearms to help prevent firearms from falling into the hands of children and extreme risk protection orders that would allow someone to petition a judge to have a person’s firearms confiscated, at least temporarily, if that person is a danger to themselves or others.

Few people spoke against the slate of 11 bills before the Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary and Public Safety Committee , arguing people would not be able to defend themselves or that gun violence would not be reduced. The comments of opponents at times drew jeers from the packed room mostly filled with bill supporters.

Survivors of the mass shooting last month at MSU that left three dead and five injured told committee members of their experiences, as did survivors of the 2021 Oxford High School shooting that left four dead and several injured.

Reina St. Juliana, whose sister was killed at Oxford, told those in the room to imagine their worst pain in their lives for a few moments, then to open their eyes and let it go.

"I can’t let it go," Ms. Juliana said, saying changes to firearms law is decades overdue and saving even one person is worth the effort. "Don’t make another person pay for your mistakes, your inaction, with their lives. … I’m not asking for your pity; I’m asking for change."

Ms. St. Juliana’s father added that he came to the Capitol two months after the Oxford shooting to urge action. He said he met with then-Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey of Clarklake and was rebuffed on taking action. Ms. St. Juliana’s father said he told Mr. Shirkey to look at the photos on his desk of his family and told him: "it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when it’s going to happen again, and it’s going to touch you; don’t wait, take action now."

Jo Kovach, MSU student body president, spoke about those lost last month and how her responsibilities in her role have taken over her daily life since February 13, including advocating for students in the aftermath, beginning work to help plan the candlelight vigil on campus and organizing a town hall for students.

"What they don’t tell you about being a survivor of a mass shooting is that the survivors of the most recent one reach out to you to offer advice," Ms. Kovach said.

Ms. Kovach said the issue should not be partisan and to vote on the bills in a nonpartisan manner.

"I’m begging with every single exhausted fiber of my being: please do your job," Ms. Kovach said.

Before the committee was an 11-bill package for testimony only, with further testimony expected next week.

Background checks for the purchase of firearms would be required under SB 76 .

SB 83 , a bill creating extreme risk protection orders, sometimes called "red flag" laws, would allow someone to petition a judge to have a person’s firearms confiscated, at least temporarily, if that person is deemed by a judge a danger to themselves or others. SB 84 would ban the purchase of firearms by an individual if they have been subjected to an order under the law. Penalties for violations under the extreme risk protection order and making false statements in a complaint seeking an order would be enacted under SB 85 . Another bill, SB 86 , provides for service of process for orders issued under the red flag law actions and waives court fees.

The proposed safe storage of firearms law is outlined under SB 79 , which would require the owner of a firearm to keep it in a lockbox or container or to have it unloaded with a locking device. The bill also outlines penalties for not having a safely stored weapon that a child gains access to and injures or kills another person. Exceptions under the bill would be for uses in farming or ranching, target practice and hunting, instruction in safe firearms use and if it is being used in their employment.

Other changes in the package include an update of references to pistol in the Michigan Penal Code (SB 77 ) and updating references in sentencing guidelines under the Code of Criminal Procedure (SB 78 and SB 80 ). The sale of firearm safety devices would be exempt from sales tax and use tax under SB 81 and SB 82 , respectively.

Not everyone was supportive of the bill package.

John Lott Jr. with the Crime Prevention Research Center pushed back on the proposals before the committee.

"I fear … that these laws will lead to more deaths, not fewer," Mr. Lott said. "People use guns defensively to stop violent crimes five times more frequently than they’re used to commit crime, and the research indicates very strongly, I believe, that it’s the most vulnerable people in our society who benefit the most from having guns for protection."

He also questioned the notion that reducing the number of guns available to people would reduce crime rates.

"You should imagine that murder rates and suicide rates should fall with either all guns or all handguns are banned. You cannot find one place in the world where either all guns or all handguns have been banned and murder rates have fallen," Mr. Lott said. "They’ve gone up every single time."

Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Keego Harbor) said she was pleased to be able to move the state forward on a topic in the front of people’s minds. She spoke about the safe storage-related bills.

"The tragedy in Oxford the shooting was done by a minor who used a firearm that belonged to his parents," Ms. Bayer said. "This package of bills addresses the situations of minors have access to firearms."

Sen. Kevin Hertel (D-Saint Clair Shores) said it was a historic day to get hearings on firearms legislation but also frustrating that it has taken so long to get to this point. He also acknowledged that no one law or set of laws will eliminate the issue.

"Background checks are only as secure as we make them," Mr. Hertel said.

Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) spoke about extreme risk protection orders, which are in place in 19 states and the District of Columbia. She spoke of suicide by firearms is the most common cause of death from firearms in the country and said the enactment of such laws could save numerous lives.

"Red flag laws create a preventative tool, a stop gap, for loved ones, judges and law enforcement, and while it is difficult to exactly measure events that do not happen, evidence shows that these extreme risk protection orders can and do reduce suicide deaths," Ms. McMorrow said.

Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Groveland Township) pointed to a 2022 article that stated despite high levels of gun violence nationally, red flag laws are rarely used and have mixed results based on data. Ms. Johnson also questioned how the proposal may be crafted differently to be more effective.

Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) thanked his colleagues for stating that it is important to keep firearms out of the hands of those who should not be in possession of them. He repeatedly focused his comments and questions on enforcement of existing gun laws.

Mr. Runestad said he was told by Oakland County Sheriff’s Office that nationally about 12,000 people with felony convictions try to purchase firearms and about one dozen such cases are pursued each year.

"We have a lot of existing laws out there to try to do that," Mr. Runestad said. "I really believe we need to be focusing also on enforcing the gun laws out there."

Mr. Runestad at one point asked Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit during his testimony why University of Michigan football player Mazi Smith was able to agree to a plea deal late last year on a felony gun charge down to a misdemeanor with probation.

"Plea bargaining is extraordinarily common in our criminal justice system," Mr. Savit said. "Plea bargains don’t just happen because of mercy, because of race, but for a whole host of reasons."

Marco Diaz-Munoz, who was teaching an evening course in the Berkey Hall classroom in which the shooter entered and opened fire, said he was supportive of stricter firearms laws before February 13, but the events of that night solidified his belief that such action is "an absolute necessity."

"I experienced the darkest event of my life," Mr. Diaz said. "Seeing my dear students die in the most inhumane way before me, even as I attempted to help … is the most traumatic moment of my life."

He said his native country of Costa Rica was able to shift its budget "from weapons to education and weapons from socialized medicine" decades ago and does not experience the wave of gun violence as in America.

Senate Expands ELCRA in Historic Vote
According to Gongwer, applause filled the Senate chamber last Wednesday after the body voted to expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, an effort that has been pushed unsuccessfully for decades.

Sen. Jeremy Moss, the state’s lone openly gay senator, told colleagues during a floor speech Wednesday that for 50 years there has been a dogged but unsuccessful effort to add LGBTQ protections against discrimination into ELCRA.

Unsuccessful, he added, until Wednesday.

"Today I am running through the tape, but this baton has been passed from generations to generations of LGBTQ activists … many of whom are no longer with us after fearlessly dedicating their lives to equality," Mr. Moss (D-Southfield) said. "This bill is dedicated to them."

Mr. Moss, who also serves as the Senate’s president pro tempore, walked to the rostrum at the front of the chamber after he finished speaking to preside over the vote on his LGBTQ rights legislation, SB 4 .

Moments later a historic vote was taken, moving such legislation through a full legislative chamber for the first time in state history. A rare display of applause filled the chamber following the bill’s passage.

The ELCRA would be changed by banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression under SB 4, which passed the Senate 23-15 with three Republicans joining all 20 Democrats in support: Sen. Joseph Bellino of Monroe, Sen. Ruth Johnson of Groveland Township and Sen. Michael Webber of Rochester Hills.

Expanding ELCRA has received broad support from business groups that generally support Republicans, but still most GOP senators voted against the bill. The concerns from Republicans who voted no seemed to center around religious rights. Religion is also a protected class under ELCRA.

The bill now heads to the House, where the Democratic majority is expected to send the bill to Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who has urged codifying civil rights protections for LGBTQ persons.

Under the bill, the ELCRA would expand protections against discrimination in employment, public accommodations and public services. It would also provide protections in educational facilities, housing and real estate.

Mr. Moss told reporters after the vote it has been a long journey for himself and others to reach the point they had arrived at in Michigan on Wednesday.

"This was long overdue; this should have been done years ago," Mr. Moss said, adding without protections there is nowhere to go for members of the LGBTQ community to seek justice in the event of discrimination. "This liberates us. This is a liberation of that oppression, that at long last here in the eyes of our law you cannot be fired, you cannot be evicted, you cannot be denied services and housing because you are LGBTQ, and this is going to save lives."

Not everyone in the Senate saw things as Mr. Moss. Republicans introduced a trio of unsuccessful amendments to the bill seeking to include protections for persons with strongly held religious beliefs. Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) then spent 30 minutes speaking to his opposition of the bill.

Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) introduced an amendment seeking to include religious orientation, identity, and expression language in the ELCRA.

"We can all agree that discrimination has no place in our communities. Likewise, we should all be able to agree that the state should never be able to discriminate against religious conscience," Mr. Runestad said. "My own fear and the fear of many Michiganders with sincerely held religious beliefs is that is we pass SB 4 without clear protections for those practicing their faith, SB 4’s new categories may be used as a sword rather than a shield."

Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton) agreed with Mr. Runestad, adding she believes no one should face discrimination.

"Michigan must act to protect the individual right to live out one’s faith without fear or governmental reprisal," Ms. Theis said. "We should not be forced to do things against our will that violate our religious faith."

Sen. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) echoed this GOP colleagues, questioning whether religious groups, nonprofits or individuals could be taken to court for exercising their religious beliefs.

"I cannot support changes to law and create a ‘super right’ to any group where a proposed change itself discriminates against another’s religious beliefs," Mr. Albert said. "At that point, you’re simply trading one form of discrimination for another. It accomplishes nothing."

Mr. Albert questioned whether a Catholic school would be required to hire someone who would promote beliefs different than that of the Catholic faith as well as the implications for school and public restrooms.

In Mr. McBroom’s speech, he touched on the nation’s history and issues including slavery as well as matters of morals and religion.

Mr. Moss prior to the vote pushed back on Republican religious arguments, saying religion is already a protected class under ELCRA. He said expanding the act would not require clergy at a church or mosque to marry a Jewish couple or an LGBTQ couple, nor would it require a Catholic priest to marry someone who has previously been divorced.

Speaking after Mr. Moss were several members of his caucus who said they were proud to be casting their votes for the bill.

"It’s a proud moment here in the Michigan Senate today. This bill is an embodiment of our best ideals as Americans and as human beings," Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) said.

Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) called the bill a way to right a wrong which she said was decades overdue. She said movement to pass SB 4 sends a message to the rest of the country about Michigan being a welcoming place.

"You will be protected here. You can find a job, a career, doing what you love and a place in a community that you can call home," Ms. McMorrow said.

For Sen. Sue Shink (D-Northfield Township), she said that Republican comments about their religious beliefs justifying discrimination against LGBT people "illustrates exactly why this legislation is necessary."

"Everyone is entitled to their religious beliefs," Ms. Shink said. "However, no one’s religious beliefs, no matter how sincerely they hold them or how gracious and God blessed they think they are, are an excuse for the oppression of others."

Sen. Veronica Klinefelt (D-Eastpointe) spoke of how she had to listen to Wednesday’s floor speeches, referring to her son and how to some in the chamber it was clear to her that the way that her son lives his life "violates the conscience of others."

"It is not my son’s fault that his mere existence interferes with others’ moral order of things, but it is precisely because individuals in this room and elsewhere have that feeling about my son that he needs to be protected against you," Ms. Klinefelt said.

When Mr. Moss was asked after session about the religious arguments such as hiring someone of a different faith to teach at a religious school as Mr. Albert had used, he said opponents were speaking in hypotheticals and are ill-informed of how the ELCRA works.

He said government cannot intervene in the religious interactions of a religious institution, daring Mr. Albert to try working at a Jewish school and see how long the employment would last if they sought to teach Christianity at such a school.

"There’s parts of this debate I feel like we’re talking about two different things, and the opposition is truly just ill-informed of Elliott-Larsen," Mr. Moss said. "That’s one of the things that has frustrated me for a lot of years is that Elliott-Larsen, in this building has turned into a curse word, when the Act has saved lives."

When asked what he believed should be next in LGBTQ legislation once SB 4 gets to the governor’s desk, Mr. Moss said changes to the state’s hate crimes statute should be an area of focus, as should be updating statue in places including references to marriage being solely between a man and a woman.

Another key focus, he said, would be a statewide vote to update the state Constitution to repeal the 2004 ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage and civil unions in the state. The 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that recognized the right of same-sex couples to marry superseded the state’s marriage law. Mr. Moss said after the high court overturned Roe v. Wade such a vote takes on a new urgency.

Watching the proceedings Wednesday in the Senate gallery was former Republican Rep. Frank Foster of Petosky, who sponsored a bill in the 2013-14 session to expand ELCRA to include sexual orientation. Mr. Foster lost a primary election in 2014 to Lee Chatfield, who in part ran against the incumbent based on his support of expanding ELCRA. Mr. Chatfield went on to become House Speaker in the 2019-20 session.

"I’m happy for Jeremy Moss and I’m happy that it’s getting done," Mr. Foster said in an Wednesday interview.

He said he expects to continue his support of the bill as it continues its path through the House and to the governor’s desk.

Several groups issued statements after the Senate adjourned, mostly in support of its actions.

Equality Michigan Executive Director Erin Knott said Michigan will soon join more than 20 states with protections against LGBT discrimination.

"This historic victory would not have been possible without decades of hard work, countless sacrifices, and generations of courageous leaders," Ms. Knott said. "We are witnessing a sea of change toward equality and bringing us closer to ensuring that every person is treated equally under the law."

Progress Michigan Deputy Director Sam Inglot said his hope is to get the bill to the governor’s desk as soon as possible.

"Expanding the ELCRA is an enormous win delivered by generations of lawmakers and advocates who have worked tirelessly to make our state more inclusive, and we join the majority of Michiganders in celebrating it – but our work doesn’t end here," Mr. Inglot said. "We remain committed to fighting back against ani-LGBTQ+ propaganda and supporting safe, inclusive education in our schools, and we will not let LGBTQ+ people in other states be left behind."

Tom Hickson, Michigan Catholic Conference vice president for public policy and advocacy, expressed disappointment in the defeat of the Republican amendments dealing with religious protections.

"By failing to strike a balance and voting against amendments to ensure religious organizations are not targeted for their long-standing religious beliefs about marriage and gender differences, the Senate has signed off on creating a class of citizens against which discrimination and targeted litigation will be likely," Mr. Hickson said.

Michigan State Medical Society President Dr. Thomas Veverka praised the Senate for its vote.

"As an organization that’s fully committed to diversity and inclusion, we are proud of the Senate for taking this critical step towards making Michigan a more inclusive and equitable place for all of its residents," Mr. Veverka said.

Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber said the labor movement has worked for decades in support to protect LGBTQ people in the workplace.

"Today’s action by the Michigan Senate is a victory for the hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ+ workers across the state who have for too long been without the legal protection they deserve to live freely and authentically," Mr. Bieber said.

New House Subcommittee Sets Michigan Mental Health Agenda
The Michigan House Subcommittee on Behavioral Health met for the first time today and heard from community clinics about what is needed to address mental health in Michigan.

Alan Bolter associate director of the Community Mental Health Association, told the committee there were three areas that they would need to address that would solve 90% of the current complaints.

“Access to care, workforce, inpatient needs. Those are the absolute critical areas out there,” Bolter said.

The mental health subcommittee chair Rep. Felicia Brabec, a working therapist who holds a doctorate in clinical psychology, said the issue she would like to focus on first was getting the mental health workforce in place, because without it there is no access to care and all patient needs end up unmet.

“We just have too many people that we need to be able to help, and I think the work that we’ll be able to do here will have a great impact,” Brabec said.

Bolter said Medicaid makes up nearly 95% of the funding for the public mental health system, but Medicaid is not responsible for all the people on the program. He said the community mental health system cares for about 350,000 of the nearly 3 million on Medicaid.

“Typically, the stat that’s thrown out is that probably one in five individuals are suffering from some form of mental illness,” he said. “If you do the math — we have roughly 10 million people — you’re talking 2 million people across the state of Michigan alone.”

He said the program currently only deals with serious mental illness, people with intellectual developmental disabilities, seriously emotionally disturbed children, people with substance-use disorders, and crisis services, which respond to suicidal individuals and other emergencies.

Bolter said the bulk of mental health funding was spent on people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, who are roughly 50,000 of the 350,000.

He said the way community mental health programs work is through a social or community-based treatment plan. The treatment is tied to food assistance, schooling, law enforcement and housing.

“A lot of folks when they think about mental health care, it is talk-therapy, sitting on a couch or chair talking to a therapist, but it is far different from that,” Bolter said.

He said certified community behavioral health clinics and a health homes program could be the future of behavioral health care. He said the health homes were spread across northern Michigan as a way to get people help for opioid abuse.

“The health homes have provided some great outcomes across the state,” Bolter said.

He said the health home model has led to a decrease in relapses, hospital stays, and cost per patient, along with an increase in follow-up visits. He invited Brabec and the other 10 committee members to visit one of the health homes.

“We have different communities across the state and sometimes different approaches would be necessary in providing care,” Bolter said.


Our own Jake German was happy to attend the Council for Economic Growth luncheon with former Governor Rick Snyder where the topic of discussion was cybersecurity.

Senator Mat Dunaskiss and Jake German were happy to give a legislative update to their clients at the Michigan Green Industry Association at their annual trade show and convention last week.  Over 5,000 green industry professionals were in attendance at the event in Novi.


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