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Lame duck session was kind of lame

Dec 13, 2016

Well, as you may have heard, the final days of the lame duck session are winding down, and not nearly as many bills have been rammed through as I first thought might be the case. Lawmakers,for example, gave up early on plans to slash teacher pensions, and “reform” retiree health care for municipal employees in the state.

That doesn’t mean there has been any kind of progressive awakening in the hearts of the Republicans who control both chambers. Six weeks ago, there was some thought that Democrats might win control of the state house of representatives, or at least make significant gains.

Had that happened, there would have been massive efforts to pass all sorts of things liberals would have found deplorable.

But Democrats gained nothing. The legislature next year will look exactly the same as this year, which means there’s no rush to ram anything through.  The legislature just did do one very good thing that was largely overlooked.

They passed State Senator Steve Bieda’s bills that would provide some compensation to those who were wrongly convicted and incarcerated.

We are talking only about people who have been completely exonerated, who lost years of their lives, and were imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. Bieda is a Democrat from Warren, and it is extremely hard for any Democrat to get major legislation through in today’s Republican-dominated Lansing.

But he reached across the aisle and worked hard on this for years. He deserves a bill signing ceremony, and congratulations from anyone who cares about justice.

There’s another bill that ought to pass, a bipartisan parole reform bill, sponsored by Republican State Representative Kurt Heise of Plymouth.  The Safe and Smart Parole Reform bill would save the state
$75 million dollars a year, by providing for the earlier release of non-violent convicts who have served their minimum sentences and are at low risk of reoffending.

The bill has passed the house, and should have sailed through the senate. But it is stalled, in large part because some politicians think they can gain political capital and show how tough on crime they are by demanding we lock up everyone as long as possible.

That’s especially true if they are planning to run for governor.

Finally, I learned something else yesterday I didn’t know. The commission responsible for the State Capitol Building approved the setting up of three holiday religious symbols on the Capitol grounds. They include a traditional Nativity scene, one from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and something called a Snaketivity scene.

I knew about the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the favorite deity of snarky college students everywhere. But I wasn’t familiar with Snaketivity. As I should have known, this has to do with Satanism. Their display consists of a spooky black cross with satanic symbols, a red snake, and a slogan in Gothic letters saying “The greatest gift is knowledge.”

Legally, every religion has the same rights under our constitution. But I have to confess that I wish we could find a way to gently rule all this inappropriate on Capitol grounds.

I prefer my statehouses adorned with grass and flowers in season, and Civil War cannon all year long. And if that makes me a reactionary, well, just remember:

You heard it here first.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.