Snyder vetoes ‘baby box’ bill, signs cyberbullying ban

An infant rests inside a “baby box” installed in Indiana in a photo posted to the Safe Haven Baby Boxes Facebook page in November.

Lansing — Republican Gov. Rick Snyder on Thursday vetoed “baby box” legislation that would have allowed Michigan parents to surrender unwanted infants by leaving them in a newborn safety device at a hospital, police or fire department.

The two bill-package was among more than 400 measures sent to Snyder's desk earlier this month during the so-called lame-duck session.

The GOP proposal would have expanded the state’s safe haven law that currently allows parents to surrender an infant to an employee at those facilities if the baby is younger than 72-hours old.

The 2000 law “has been an important and valuable policy to ensure unwanted newborn babies are not abandoned or harmed,” Snyder said in his veto letter to the Legislature.

“However, I do not believe it is appropriate to allow for parents to surrender a baby by simply depositing the baby into a device, rather than physically handing the baby to a uniformed police, fire or hospital employee.”

More than 200 newborns have been surrendered in Michigan through the state’s safe delivery program since 2001, primarily at hospitals at the time of birth, according to the state.

Sponsoring Rep. Bronna Kahle, R-Adrian, had argued the drop-off boxes would have allowed parents to safely surrender a child while avoiding face-to-face contact necessary under the former law.

The boxes would have locked from the outside after an infant was placed inside, triggering a call to 911 within 30 seconds.

The baby box plan was among 11 measures that Snyder vetoed Thursday. The term-limited governor, set to leave office Jan. 1, rejected four other bills last week and has now issued 70 vetoes over his nearly eight-year tenure.

Snyder signed five bills into law last week and another 47 on Thursday, including a measure sponsored by Rep. Pete Lucido, R-Shelby Township, to formally establish cyberbullying as a crime.

Under the new law, set to take effect in March, bullying someone online would be a misdemeanor crime punishable by up to 93 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.

A pattern of repeated harassment would be a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Cyberbullying that caused a victim’s death would be punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

“Cyberbullying can cause just as much trauma as traditional bullying so it’s important that it be considered a crime,” Snyder said in a statement. “With this bill, we are sending a message that bullying of any kind is not tolerated in Michigan.”

The term-limited governor will cede power to Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer at noon Tuesday, leaving him with a narrow window in which to weigh in on several controversial pieces of legislation.

The deliberation process could continue through the weekend, depending on how quickly Snyder’s office receives and reviews the bills before deciding on their fate, said spokesman Ari Adler.

While the outgoing GOP governor likely will pick policy change over structural change, his final decisions on most bills are difficult to predict, said Adrian Hemond, a Democratic consultant at Grassroots Midwest.

“We have reached this really interesting period, partly because this governor is a bit of an enigma, especially to this Legislature, but also because of the sheer volume of bills that were passed,” Hemond said.

Among the dozens of bills on Snyder’s desk is a bill reducing the window of time in which to pursue criminal campaign finance charges, a bill that would allow the Legislature to intervene in court cases, a shift in toxic site cleanup criteria and a scaled-back plan to deregulate small Michigan wetlands, streams and inland lakes.

The governor also will decide on proposed laws making it more difficult to conduct a petition drive, a roughly $1.3 billion spending supplemental, and a bill that would make it harder for department heads to develop rules stricter than federal guidelines, a policy similar to one vetoed by Snyder in 2011.

Snyder vetoed four bills Friday, including one that would have allowed the auditor general access to confidential information in state agencies. He called it “an unconstitutional overreach” that would blur the line between “the legislative and other branches.”

The decision could be an indicator of what’s to come for other bills that seem to challenge the authority of the courts and the incoming Democratic administration, namely a "legislative intervention" bill that would allow the House and Senate to intervene in court cases without the approval of a judge.

Snyder's decision on several environmental bills, including one that would alter the state's cleanup criteria for contaminated sites, also is somewhat unclear. The governor, who pushed for increased funding for environmental cleanups in recent months, also heard from roughly 80 DEQ employees who said the new criteria would weaken current standards and handcuff incoming officials.  

The fate of legislation that would limit the number of petition drive signatures that could be collected in any single congressional district also seems dubious, Hemond said. 

Snyder’s former top adviser, Bill Rustem, said the proposed rules would make signature-gathering difficult, especially in the Upper Peninsula and northern Michigan. In a letter to Snyder, he urged the governor to “preserve ‘government of, by, and for the people.’”

“That one seems like the sort of thing the governor would look askance at,” Hemond said. “It’s a pretty big change to make on the way out the door.”

Snyder could line-item veto parts of the large supplemental spending bill, including the $115 million in Michigan Enhancement Grants largely used for pet projects in the districts of some legislators.

While the governor could reject some of those projects, it's likely some are tied to deals he or legislative leaders made with individual lawmakers, Hemond said.