In this issue of Lansing Update:
- House and Senate Pass Welfare Reform Legislation
- Board of State Canvassers Approve Three Ballot Initiative Forms for 2006
- Ultasound Bill Passes Senate, Heads Back to House for Concurrance
Both the House of Representatives and Senate this week exchanged a major package of bills that seek to reform the state’s welfare program before existing provisions expire December 31. Differences between House and Senate versions likely will be ironed out early next week before heading to the governor’s desk.
Michigan Catholic Conference has advocated since the introduction of the bills for the preservation of lifetime limits while both the administration and legislature have sough for the policy’s removal. Arguing that creating time limits will only cut a major hole in the state’s social safety net, Conference staff has also urged legislators to rescind support for punitive sanctions that are also included in the bills.
Welfare reform began after completion of last year’s budget, which revealed a major increase in case loads and exposed the high cost of providing benefits to the state’s most vulnerable. Since its inception the Michigan Catholic Conference has consistently advocated that the target of welfare reform should be poverty, not poor people, and that the state should do everything in its power to care for those who need assistance most. While the Conference has called for and supports the inclusion of job training and education provisions in the bills, several other provisions that address sanctions are found to be objectionable.
Legislation passing the Senate would impose harsh penalties for those who violate the terms of their agreement with the state. According to the bill, the penalty for the first and second offense is withholding assistance for 90 days each, then enacting a 24 month sanction for a third violation. Any imposed sanctions would count toward a 48-month time limit sought by the administration and legislature, which is ardently opposed by the Conference.
Should the House and Senate fail to agree on each chamber’s reforms, or the governor decides to veto the package of bills, legislation already passing both chambers that would extend the expiring provisions until December 31, 2006 would be enacted.
Other provisions included in Senate Bills, 892, 893, 894 and House Bills 5438, 5439, 5440, 5441, 5442 include:
- Stopping the clock on the 48-month lifetime limit if the unemployment rate in the county in which a recipient lives rises above 10 percent,
- Forces recipients who attend college to receive both a 2.5 grade point average and a 90 percent attendance record,
- Any assistance received in other states would count toward the 48-month time limit,
- Victims of domestic abuse and those with physical and mental handicaps are exempt from the 48-month limit,
- Any person receiving assistance for more than 36 months before the bills’ passage would have to work with the Department of Human Services to develop a family independence plan,
- A 12-month extension beyond the 48-month limit would be allowed if certain requirements are met and local economic conditions prevent employment, and
- Reorganization individual Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments to reflect the cash assistance payment rate.
The Michigan Board of State Canvassers met this week to decide the initial fate of three initiatives hoping to appear on the November 2006 general election ballot. The Board of State Canvassers is comprised of 4 members, with the Democrat and Republican parties each appointing two individuals. The Board members’ obligations are either to accept or reject State Bureau of Elections staff’s recommendation of approving signature petitions or petition forms for statewide ballots.
The three initiatives that had their respective petition form language approved are:
- Citizens for Education: The organization’s intent is to amend the state constitution to include language that would allow for automatic rate of inflation increases for K-12 schools, community colleges and state universities. The automatic increases would be guaranteed, without legislative approval, if inflation were to rise in the state. An additional provision of the proposal is to bring the lowest and highest per-pupil funded school districts within $1,000 of each other by 2012.
- Protect the Rights of Property: This group’s intent is to write eminent domain language in the state constitution to allow government to seize property for economic development only under a “pressing direct government interest.” All citizens and businesses would have to be treated equally under the proposal.
- Michigan Citizen’s for Life: Amending the state constitution to define the beginning of life at conception is the goal of this organization. To date, Citizen’s for Life has not begun to collect petition signatures and has not announced plans to organize a statewide campaign.
While all three groups’ petitions were approved to form, each organization must now collect more than 317,000 valid signatures for their proposal to appear on the November 2006 ballot.
Earlier this week the Michigan Senate passed 36-0 legislation that would mandate abortion providers who utilize ultrasound machines in their procedure to offer the woman the opportunity to view the photo of the child.
When House Bill 4446 passed the House of Representatives in March it mandated all abortion providers to offer the woman the choice to see the ultrasound photo. The Senate Health Policy Committee passed the same language, but the full Senate amended the bill to read only those abortion clinics that already use an ultrasound machine to offer the choice of viewing the image.
Representative Dave Robertson (R-Grand Blanc), sponsor of the bill, has expressed disappointment with the Senate changes and will work to return the bill to its original intent. Michigan Catholic Conference testified on the original bill’s behalf before the House Health Policy Committee.