Sen. Jones bill to address child welfare in Michigan law

LANSING — Legislation establishing new standards for removing a child from its parents has been introduced in the Michigan Senate, said sponsor Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand ledge.

Senate Bill 320 would ensure that Michigan law meets the constitutional standards as defined by several of the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals. The proposal has four parts:

  • Standard for emergency police removals;
  • Process for judicial officer review of emergency placement;
  • Standards for ex parte court-ordered emergency removals; and
  • Preliminary hearing pretrial placement standards.

“The Michigan child protection system could result in both over and under-intervention in families when removing children,” said Jones, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “This could increase the number of children in foster care.”

A notorious foster care case occurred when 7-year-old Leo Ratte attended a Detroit Tigers ball game with his father in 2008. Leo was placed in foster care for three days and two nights when his father Christopher Ratte, a classics professor at the University of Michigan, inadvertently gave him a Mike’s Hard Lemonade, not knowing it was an alcoholic drink.

Leo was placed in foster care, even though physicians from Children’s Hospital found no alcohol in his blood and determined he was fine. When his mother Claire Zimmerman tried to get her child, she was denied although there were no charges against her.

According to Jones, this embarrassing case received international attention including articles in Great Britain reflecting on the state of personal liberty in America.

“I believe that no state has a lower threshold for removal of children into foster care than Michigan,” Jones said. “I want to ensure that the child who is in immediate danger is protected, but also ensure that proper standards for removal are detailed in state law.”