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State House Passes Overhaul To Michigan’s Criminal Defense System

A plan to change the way Michigan counties appoint public defenders is headed to the state Senate.

As Michigan Public Radio’s Jake Neher reports, the legislation got bipartisan support Thursday in the state House.

The bill passed the House with 71 “yes” votes. Most of the 36 votes against it came from Republicans.

The proposal would create a panel to set standards for how counties appoint attorneys to the poor. It would also require a certain level of public defense funding from counties that don’t meet those requirements.

Bill sponsor Republican Tom McMillin says Michigan’s system is one of the worst in the country. He says the federal government is putting pressure on the state to fix it. 

“We’re going to have to deal with this," he says. "It’s just matter of whether we’ll deal with it ourselves or if a federal judge is going to be dealing with it.”

Opponents say the bill would be another burden on cash-strapped counties, and it doesn’t lay out specific standards for them to follow.

Jake Neher is a reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He covers the State Legislature and other political events in Lansing.
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