A closer look at two new state laws

Apr 3, 2013

Two laws took effect this week in Michigan, one concerning abortion and the other concerning marijuana. The state Legislature passed the controversial bills in a frenzy of activity last December.

Let's start with the new bill concerning abortion. 

Chad Livingood is the Lansing reporter for the Detroit News and Chris Gautz is  the Capitol correspondent for Crain's Detroit Business. 

They outlined the new law for us, which regulates abortion clinics that provide surgical abortions. 

1. Abortion clinics as "surgical centers"

 The new law requires clinics to be licensed as "free standing surgical centers," Livingood said. "This is going to test some clinics about whether they can remain in business because there are several different regulations that are going to be involved. Some clinics could be closed because they don't have wide enough hallways."

"If it's a clinic that provides oral medication or an abortion pill, they don't have to be a surgical center and the law doesn't apply," Livingood said.

2. Coercion is illegal, kind of

Clinics will be required to ask a series of questions about whether the woman has been forced or coerced into getting an abortion.

But there's a loophole.

According to Gautz, the Legislature never got around to making coercion an illegal activity, but they make these abortion clinics post notices saying that coercion is illegal.

"They're requiring that Michigan abortion clinics post a falsehood in their offices because [coercion] is not illegal. Clinics have to tell [patients] it's illegal but it's not," Gautz said.

Lawmakers that Gautz spoke with realized their mistake and plan to make coercion illegal in the near future.

The reasoning behind  the law

These regulations for abortion clinics were brought to lawmakers' attention, including Republican Senator Rick Jones, when a case in Delta township in Eaton County made some noise a few years ago when fetal remains were allegedly found in a dumpster. 

"The state investigated [the claims] and there was some disputed accounts of whether that was the case but they did determine that there was no law against [fetal disposal] until now," Livingood said.

Chris Gautz is the Capitol correspondent for Crain's Detroit Business and spoke about the effect the Delta County case had on new abortion regulations.

"Senator Jones's point is that whether or not you're going to get an abortion or plastic surgery work done, you should be in a safe, sterile environment that's regulated and inspected by the state. He doesn't want women to go somewhere to get an abortion and get infected or be in a place that aren't up to standards," Gautz said.

But he pointed out opponents to the law argue that Jones's reasoning is a backhanded way to make abortions as difficult as possible to provide at Michigan clinics. 

Now, let's look at the medical marijuana law

Right now, more than 131,000 medical marijuana users reside in Michigan and another 27,000 are "caregivers," who can grow marijuana for up to five people.

Once again, Gautz and Livingood explained what the new law means for medical marijuana users.

1. Doctor-patient relationships

Under the new law, medical marijuana patients are required to have a bonafide doctor-patient relationship and prescriptions are monitored. 

"You have to go and sit with your doctor and they'll follow up with you just like any other type of medication. They wouldn't just give you an open prescription to get Vicodin for the rest of your life," Gautz said. 

2. New state ID cards

Now, state ID cards are good for two years instead of one.

"There was a big problem because so many people had applied for [a medical marijuana card]. People were waiting months upon months to get their cards that by the time they got them they'd have to reapply again," Gautz noted.

3. Police have access to medical marijuana registry

Previously, if the police received a tip about someone who may possess marijuana, they couldn't call the state to ask if the person was legally able to possess it as a medical marijuana user. Now, police have access to those records. 

What this means

One of the most important things to note about the medical marijuana law is that it's bipartisan. 

"The legislation was sponsored by a couple of Republicans and a Democrat. Representative John Walsh, Speaker Pro Tem from Livonia, was a leader in getting this through the judiciary committee and partnered with Democrat Phil Cavanaugh from Redford Township to make this come to fruition," Livingood said. 

Livingood noted that the push for such a law from such a rural central Michigan town like Livonia may suggest that more people are starting to see medical benefits from prescribed marijuana.

-Lucy Perkins, Michigan Radio Newsroom