LANSING, Mich. (AP/WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has refused to sign a bill that would have let one-time drunken drivers ask a judge to set aside their conviction, despite the measure’s broad bipartisan support in the Legislature.
The Democrat took no action on the expungement legislation Monday, allowing it to die when a 14-day review period expired.
The legislation passed easily in the Senate with a 32-5 vote and in the House with a 98-8 vote.
“There’s a certain segment of our population that we feel need to get back re-engaged. They’ve paid their service to society,” said state Sen. Roger Victory, R-Georgetown Township, who supported the bill. “A lot of this is about getting back into the economy. Giving those folks employment opportunities.”
A spokesperson for the governor was not precise about the reason for the veto in a Tuesday statement to News 8, writing the justifications for recent vetoes “vary.”
The bill was supported by top officials including Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack, both Democrats like Whitmer. Nessel says she hopes the governor will revisit the issue and reconsider her position.
“Our judicial system’s role in these cases should be to hold the offender accountable, but in an appropriate way – not by sentencing that person to a lifetime of hardship and obstacles in obtaining gainful employment, financial support or otherwise,” Nessel said in a statement to News 8.
Victory said that in addition to the sweeping support for the bill, the governor’s pocket veto was particularly confusing because he says her office never voiced concerns throughout the process.
“If there was a specific issue, if there was a concern that needed to be vetted through, that’s where the process is designed to have the administration come in and add their voice to it,” Victory said.
Despite criticism from lawmakers, advocates against impaired driving say the governor’s veto was for the best.
“This is clearly a step backwards. To expunge for a first-time offense, for this, sends a clear message that drunk driving is excusable,” Doug Scoles with Mothers Against Drunk Driving Michigan said.
Scoles said drunken driving cases have largely declined over the years but it still remains a significant problem. As rideshare apps and other public transportation has evolved, he argued, there’s no longer an excuse for getting behind the wheel drunk. He said he is concerned expungement would increase the likelihood of impaired drivers hitting road.
“I’ve heard the argument that it turns people’s lives upside down. I would say in contrary to that, people who have lost their loved ones, their life is upside down,” Scoles said.
Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker said he, too, has concerns that the bill gives impaired drivers a pass.
“If you look at the studies from the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the average drunk driver has driven 80 times before being pulled over. So this idea that it’s just one time is not necessarily the case. We’re just not catching them,” Becker said.
Becker said his office has generally supported expungement laws but the drunken driven measure still needs work to ensure community safety. He suggested adding provisions so prosecutors can weigh in and enhance charges for people who offend more than once.
“This is a serious offense, something that we take very seriously and that’s maybe just a leap too far,” Becker said.
Victory said he and other legislators are open to hearing concerns from the governor’s office and making changes. He said they hope to revisit a similar piece of legislation in the coming weeks.