Prison bill passes House, moves on to Senate

LANSING — House Bill 4467, the legislation which would allow the GEO North Lake Correctional Facility in Webber Township to hold more dangerous, higher level prisoners, has passed the Michigan State House and now moves to the Michigan Senate.

The bill passed the House with 57 yeas and 53 nays. This measure will allow level five prisoners to be housed in prisons like the soon-to-reopen North Lake Correctional Facility. While GEO has no plans to house any inmates above level four, an inability to house more dangerous prisoners could have been a sticking point in negotiations.

Representative Jon Bumstead, R-Newaygo, proposed the bill and has been championing it in the House. While governor Rick Snyder has expressed support for the bill, it must now go through the Senate.

"We got it through by a few extra votes and now it can go to the Senate," said Bumstead. "We're trying to create some dollars and get some out of state money coming in. Some people were opposed to it because some people are always going to be opposed to privatization, but I think it's clear this is going to do a lot of good for Lake County and the surrounding counties."

The bill will be seen by a Senate committee early this coming week, and Bumstead hopes this means it will go up for a vote by May 22.

"Senator Jones will bring this to committee and he said he wants to keep it on the fast track," said Bumstead. "I think it will get even more support in the Senate. The House vote should have been the biggest hurdle for getting this passed."

GEO is currently negotiating with multiple out-of-state correctional systems to take on some of their inmates. If the prison opens, it will be the first Michigan facility to house out-of-state prisoners since 2011.

The GEO facility has been closed since 2010. The reopening of the facility would mean a large number of new jobs, 150 to begin with according to GEO, for the financially struggling county.

"It's all about bringing in new jobs and getting the money to start coming in," said Bumstead. "There will be a ripple effect that will really give a boost to the economy. Plus, this will not be taking away jobs from elsewhere in the state to it's a win-win for Michigan."

GEO would not comment on the legislation, but has said it plans to reopen the Lake County facility in July.