State House Works To Shrink Criminal Code

Lawmakers target outdated laws that deal with the national anthem, dyed chicks, and walkathons.

By: Rick Pluta, Capitol Bureau Chief, Michigan Public Radio Network 

The state House has begun an effort to scrub outdated laws from the books. Some of the early targets include bans on cursing in front of women and children, playing the national anthem in movie theaters, and selling dyed chicks and bunnies.        

The state House Criminal Justice Committee just opened hearings on what’s expected to be a long-term effort to shrink the size of Michigan’s criminal code

“Our overall criminal code is disorganized and it does place our citizens at risk of potentially violating a growing array of crimes that we’ve put on the books,” says state Representative Chris Afendoulis (R-Grand Rapids Township).

Other laws that are on the list for repeal outlaw putting bright orange collars or harnesses on dogs that are not service pets for handicapped people, ban endurance contests (like walk-a-thons) that last more than a day, and prohibit public shaming for refusing to fight a duel.

It’s not an easy job. Not everyone agrees on what makes a law archaic or unnecessary. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development opposes lifting the ban on orange on pets other than leader dogs, as well as the prohibition on selling dyed chicks and bunnies.

And Afedoulis says going forward, he also wants to tackle decriminalizing more serious offenses, including some that have put people in jail or prison.

“There is wide support among academics, law enforcement, and law practitioners that have argued that we just simply have too many laws,” he says. “Many of the old or archaic, unnecessary. Some

are unconstitutional.”  

The ban on cursing in front of women and children was ruled unconstitutional by the Michigan Court of Appeals in a celebrated case where a man was charged with spewing obscenities on a river heavily traveled by canoeing parties.

Shelli Weisberg of the ACLU-Michigan says many of the laws seem frivolous, but it’s a serious exercise.

“Our criminal code in Michigan is just so huge and even when the laws are seemingly ridiculous, prosecutors still use them to add on charges,” she says.

Committee votes on the bills will likely take place after the Legislature returns from its two-week April spring break. The House effort continues the work begun by a state Senate task force in the 1990s. One of the first “frivolous” laws repealed was a 10-cent bounty on rats’ heads.