Lawmakers ease zero-tolerance laws, limit seclusion methods

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) — School officials would have to consider certain factors before expelling or suspending a student under softer “zero-tolerance” laws that were approved Wednesday in the Michigan Legislature, where energy and auto insurance bills were in doubt in the closing days of the term.

Lawmakers also voted to authorize wolf hunting if the animal is removed from the endangered species list and voted overwhelmingly to limit the use of restraint and seclusion in schools to emergencies. The methods are disproportionately used on students with disabilities.

“Using positive behavioral interventions and supports, instead of archaic and barbaric practices, will help all students grow and thrive,” said Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, whose daughter has autism.

The main school discipline bill, which went to Gov. Rick Snyder for his expected signature, reflects a rethinking of the zero-tolerance measures that gained prominence after the mass shooting at Colorado’s Columbine High School in 1999.

The legislation would take effect for the next academic year and would require school administrators to consider a pupil’s age, disciplinary history, the severity of the misconduct and if the behavior threatened another student or staff member’s safety. Other factors would include whether the student has a disability, if a lesser punishment could address the violation and whether “restorative” meetings between the offender and a victim could help.

“In trying to make sure that we are keeping all kids safe, we went a little too far. Without giving the flexibility that schools need, you catch unintended consequences,” said a bill sponsor, Democratic Rep. Andy Schor of Lansing. He cited instances of kids unintentionally bringing knives or other weapons to school and being suspended or expelled.

Policies requiring at least a one-year expulsion for taking a gun to school would remain intact, or else school districts could lose federal funding.

Legislators were still in session late Wednesday night. They sent the Republican governor bills that would:

— require utilities to more quickly warn customers if there is too much lead in their water, cutting the deadline to three business days instead of 30 days. The bill is the first policy change — rather than hundreds of millions in emergency state funding — enacted in the wake of Flint’s crisis.

— define wolves as a game species and authorize the Natural Resources Commission to designate game. The state appeals court last month declared a 2014 law unconstitutional because a provision providing free hunting, trapping and fishing licenses to military members is not related to the scientific management of fish, wildlife and their habitats. Wolf hunting is not allowed in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota under a 2014 federal judge’s ruling that threw out an Obama administration decision to remove gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region from the endangered species list.

— change Michigan’s 2008 voter-approved medical marijuana law to let landlords prohibit patients from growing or smoking the drug on residential rental property.

— require that schools provide instruction in CPR and the use of defibrillators at least one time between grades 7 and 12.

— further shield municipalities from lawsuits filed by people who trip and fall on sidewalks, which would aid budget-strapped cities such as Detroit that pay millions of dollars annually in injury settlements.

— strengthen a prohibition against receiving compensation for fetal remains, which Democrats said already is illegal. Republicans said the bills are necessary after an anti-abortion group released videos it said showed that Planned Parenthood illegally sells fetal tissue for profit. Planned Parenthood has said the videos were heavily edited and denied seeking any payments beyond legally permitted reimbursement of costs.

The last day before the two-year term ends is Thursday.

Talks continued on a closely watched rewrite of 2008 energy laws that govern the regulation of utility giants and their competitors, require minimum amounts of renewable sources of electricity and set efficiency benchmarks. The bills remain pending in the House, where majority Republicans were at odds despite Snyder’s support for the legislation.

GOP leaders in recent days also have revived a plan to address medical costs in Michigan’s auto no-fault insurance system.

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