In this issue of Lansing Update:
- Legislative Day Attracts Some 300 Catholics From Across the State
- Equality in Education Among Key Issues Raised at Legislative Day
- Governor Unveils Plan to Restructure Merit Award Scholarships
- Committee Hearings of Interest
Some 300 adult and student Catholics from across the state congregated in Lansing this week as the Michigan Catholic Conference and the Catholic Dioceses of Michigan conducted Catholic Legislative Day and Student Catholic Legislative Day 2005.
“Participation in Catholic Legislative Day has increased every year since its inception and today was no different as hundreds of Catholics from across the state were presented with an edifying and engaging day of advocacy,” said MCC Vice-President for Public Policy Paul A. Long. “Those in attendance were briefed not only on Catholic obligation to become involved in the democratic process, but also on the social and moral issues that affect the daily lives of Michigan citizens.”
Among the highlights of Catholic Legislative Day included an in-depth focus on Catholic social action and involvement from Mr. John Carr, director of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops Office of Social Development and World Peace. Mr. Carr discussed the U.S. bishops’ call to “faithful citizenship” and addressed the importance for Catholics to become engaged in the social and human life issues that affect society as a whole.
Also highlighting the day was State Representative Brian Palmer, chairman of the House Education Committee, who focused on the significance of grassroots advocacy and its influence on public policy. Representative Palmer cited three specific instances by which the Catholic community’s grassroots activity affected the Legislature last year:
- Defeating a constitutional amendment proposal to reinstate the death penalty in Michigan,
- Collecting some 460,000 signatures to override the governor’s veto of a bill to outlaw partial-birth abortion, and
- Supporting legislative efforts, and subsequently at the ballot box, an effort to solidify marriage as only between one man and one woman in our state’s constitution.
Also taking place was Student Catholic Legislative Day, where some 170 high-school students from across the state engaged in small-group activity that focused on the seven principles of Catholic social teaching and their relevance to modern-day public policy issues. The students dissected such issues as human life, health care, immigration, choice in public education, crafting the state budget as a moral statement, caring for the environment and protecting the state’s poor and vulnerable residents.
Catholic Legislative Day has been conducted for the past seven years and took place at the Cathedral of St. Mary in downtown Lansing. Following the day of advocacy and social policy awareness the students and adults proceeded to the House of Representatives gallery to witness the democratic process in action.
While participation focused on Catholic obligation to social and human life policy issues, specific attention was brought to the administration’s proposal to eliminate the Michigan Tuition Grant Program for the 2005–06 fiscal year.
For the past three fiscal years the governor has proposed cutting the $61.8 million tuition grant program from Section 119 of the Higher Education budget, which enables low and middle-income students to attend Michigan’s independent colleges and universities. While the Legislature has restored funding with overwhelming bipartisan support in the past, the repeated proposed elimination of the program presents a possible calamity for those students who depend on the grants for their college studies.
“It’s baffling why the program’s elimination has been repeatedly proposed at a time when the state is trying to increase its college graduation rate,” said Long.
Participants were asked to lobby their legislators on this issue either in personal meetings or in messages sent through the Catholic Legislative Advocacy Network. [Link no longer available —Ed.]
Protection of Faith-Based Providers
Also addressed at Catholic Legislative Day was the issue of solidifying faith-based organizations as providers of critical human services. The governor’s budget recommendation for the 2005–06 fiscal year eliminated section 220 of the Department of Human Services (DHS) budget, which ensures faith-based agencies that assist the state in providing services are not disqualified from participation due to their faith principles.
Funding derived from Sec. 220 assists in providing a full range of human services from food assistance and homeless shelters to adoption services and after-school programs. In order to provide these services, DHS relies on faith-based agencies founded in many different religious traditions, including Catholic agencies.
Section 220 of the DHS budget has been included for numerous budget cycles and participants of Catholic Legislative Day were urged to bring this matter to their elected members of the Legislature.
Governor Granholm this week unveiled detailed plans initially announced at the State of the State address to restructure the Michigan Merit Award Scholarship, which, based on Michigan Education Assessment Program test scores, rewards high school students with a $2,500 scholarship.
The revised award would be first offered to the 2007 high school graduating class, who would receive a $4,000 amount after earning an associate’s degree from a community college, achieving junior status at a four-year university, or completing the equivalent technical or career training program. Students would have to enroll in one of those programs within two years of high school graduation and meet the new requirements within another four years.
While the governor’s intent is to benefit students who have already started but may not finish college, there is speculation that many of those students would not have achieved junior-status without the initial $2,500 scholarship. Michigan Catholic Conference is evaluating the details of the proposal and is working to ensure the “New Merit Scholarship” will not deter the ability for students to achieve a college education.
House Bill 4678 identifies the key aspects of the proposal and was sent to the House Committee on Higher Education and Career Preparation.
House Health Policy Committee
Tuesday, May 3, 10:30 a.m., Room 521, House Office Building
House Bill 4446 (Rep. Dave Robertson) -- Health; abortion; provision allowing patients the opportunity to view the active ultrasound image of, and to have an ultrasound picture of, the fetus prior to performing an abortion; require.
Senate Education and Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education
Tuesday, May 3, 3:00 p.m., 3rd Floor, Senate Appropriations Room
Discussion of Michigan Merit Award Program
Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Department of Human Services
Wednesday, May 4, 8:30 a.m., Room 210, Farnum Building
Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Decisions
Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Department of Community Health
Thursday, May 5, 1:00 p.m., Room 810, Farnum Building
Administration, Aging and Public Health Overview