Despite savings, some GOP lawmakers refusing to support bill
A handful of House Republicans are keeping a prison privatization bill in solitary confinement.
House Bill 5174 would allow the Michigan Department of Corrections to house prisoners in privately operated prisons. What's more, the measure includes a requirement that the private prisons would have to save 10 percent in costs to qualify.
Even with this savings language, the bill remains bogged down in the Michigan House where the GOP enjoys a 63-47 majority and only 56 “yes” votes are needed for passage.
It's not a secret in Lansing that a group of Republicans, most of whom have prisons in their districts, is causing the logjam.
Michigan corrections officers unions and the United Auto Workers are active in those prison districts and also at the capitol. A union tent was on the capitol lawn the day the prison privatization vote was supposed to take place.
A more expensive state-operated prison likely would be closed and replaced by the privately owned North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin if the bill is enacted. Some observers argue that this appears to be one of the strongest trumps the unions are using to keep the bill penned up.
At the moment, it appears that most, if not all, of the Republican hold-outs will have no primary election opponents this summer. That could also be a factor in the success the unions have been enjoying on this issue because the unions could help an upstart challenger enter one of the primary races if the sitting House member decided to support the prison privatization bill.
Senate legislation that nearly mirrors House Bill 5174 has already been passed.
On Wednesday, House Bill 5174 was on the House agenda, but failed to move.
“The bill needs some tweaking,” Ari Adler, spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, said after being asked why the bill wasn't taken up for a vote.
Rep. Jon Bumstead, R-Newaygo, the sponsor of the bill, also dismissed the House's failure to move the measure as a question of simply making a few changes.
“There are a couple of minor changes to be made,” Rep. Bumstead said. “We want to make sure our ducks are all in a row and do it right. It needs a few tweaks and then we think we'll have it to where it will have a chance to pass.”