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Michigan Senate inches homeless youth, human trafficking bills closer to final vote

The Senate chambers in the Michigan state capitol in Lansing.
Rick Brewer
Senate chambers in the Michigan state capitol in Lansing.

Bills to give organizations that house homeless or runaway youth three days to gain parental consent to help a child inched closer to a final vote in the Senate Thursday, the second day the chamber met this year.

Currently, those institutions must gain permission within 24 hours, or call Children’s Protective Services.

State Senator Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) chairs the Senate Housing and Human Services Committee. He said that 24-hour window can lead to children being back on the street if they don’t want to enter the system.

“That’s just become a really big practical problem. A lot of times these people just can’t be reached quite that quickly and we don’t want to put these agencies who are trying to help kids in a position of having to put these kids on the street because they can’t connect with a parent,” Irwin said.

Critics of the bills, however, have said the package would violate parental rights.

Katherine Bussard, of the group, Salt & Light Global, said the proposed policies go against the due process clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“If enacted, this bill package could result in unlawful interference by the government — not to mention the sheer agony of otherwise fit parents, who, for days on end, could be precluded from knowledge about the wellbeing of their child,” Bussard wrote in testimony submitted to the state House Families, Children, and Seniors Committee on September 26, 2023.

The legislation could see a Senate vote as soon as next week.

Meanwhile, the Senate Thursday also pushed legislation to allow certain hearsay, or statements made outside of trials or hearings, as evidence in human trafficking cases closer to a final vote.

Currently, Michigan already makes an exception for domestic violence cases.

State Senator Sue Shink (D-Northfield Twp) co-sponsored the package. She said sometimes people who have faced human trafficking are afraid to testify.

“They may be being threatened. And they may have a variety of other problems. And so, there’s a tendency for them just to disappear and never come back. So, we have a number of hearsay exceptions. Making a hearsay exception for their testimony allows human traffickers to be prosecuted,” Shink said.

Shink said she’s not sure of an exact timeline for bringing those bills to a final Senate vote.

The legislation would also prevent a victim or witness from facing prosecution for what they say during truthful testimony in a human trafficking case.

Colin Jackson is a reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.