In this issue of Lansing Update:
- Michigan Catholic Conference Announces Advocacy Priorities
- Bishop Robert J. Carlson Welcomed as New Bishop of Saginaw Diocese
- Statewide Stem Cell Education Effort Announced
- Lawmakers, Governor Attempting to Repair State’s Economy
- Michigan Catholic Conference Draws Concerns From State Budget Proposals
- Office of Children’s Ombudsman Recommends Adoption to Unmarried Couples
Michigan Catholic Conference Board of Directors this week approved the Conference’s advocacy agenda for the 2005–06 legislative session. The advocacy priorities include public policy issues in the areas of religious freedom, human life, children and families, education, health care, and economic justice and regulatory reform. Among the specific policy issues for which the Conference will advocate this session include:
- A consistent pro-life ethic, which includes legislation protecting the lives of unborn children; state initiatives that provide alternatives to abortion and assistance to pregnant women; and upholding the state’s ban on assisted suicide, capital punishment and human cloning—including embryonic stem cell research.
- Creating a state Earned Income Tax Credit in an effort to increase the effectiveness of the federal earned income tax credit within the state, further encourage work, boost after-tax income and increase the number of jobs in Michigan. (A Hand Up for Michigan Workers: Creating a State Earned Income Tax Credit is available at www.micatholic.org)
- The creation of a state Religious Freedom Protection Act, which recognizes the free exercise of religion as an unalienable right and includes protecting the conscience right of faith-based health care and social service providers.
- Providing equitable, accessible and ethical health care as an essential safeguard of human life. This includes necessary health coverage for low income, uninsured individuals and families; as well as the protection of adequate Medicaid funding.
- Upholding the traditional definition of the family, amending Michigan’s no-fault divorce laws and supporting policies that streamline foster care payments to ensure critical services are provided to children.
- Protecting and expanding existing public school choice for all parents, and the protection of non-public schools from excessive state regulation.
“We look forward to working with the Legislature and the administration to ensure the above mentioned policy issues are implemented in an effort to promote and protect the common good of our society,” said Paul Long, MCC Vice-President for Public Policy. “The State of Michigan has a long-standing tradition of preserving the dignity and respect of the human person, and the Michigan Catholic Conference is eager to help carry on that tradition this legislative session.”
Michigan Catholic Conference announced Most Reverend Robert J. Carlson, Bishop of Saginaw, has become a member of the Conference’s board of directors following his installation Mass last week at the Cathedral of St. Mary in Saginaw.
Succeeding Bishop Kenneth E. Untener, who died March 27, 2004 of complications from Leukemia, Bishop Carlson joins the Michigan Catholic Conference board as a diocesan bishop of the Province of Detroit, which includes all seven dioceses of the state. Bishop Carlson was appointed as the fifth bishop of the Saginaw Diocese last December by His Holiness Pope John Paul II and comes to Michigan from the Diocese of Sioux Falls.
“Bishop Carlson is a welcome addition to the Michigan Catholic Conference Board of Directors and we look forward to his wealth of knowledge on matters concerning Church and state,” said Sister Monica Kostielney, R.S.M., MCC president and chief executive officer. “Bishop Carlson’s insight and faith will help continue the Conference’s commitment to advocate for the common good of our society.”
Born June 30, 1944 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Bishop Carlson attended St. Paul Seminary, where he received a B.A. in philosophy in 1966, and a Masters of Divinity in 1976. In 1979, he received his licentiate in Canon Law from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He was ordained for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis on May 23, 1970 and ordained bishop on Jan. 11, 1984, serving as auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. On Jan. 13, 1994, he was named coadjutor bishop for the Diocese of Sioux Falls, and became the seventh bishop of that diocese on March 21, 1995 succeeding Bishop Paul V. Dudley upon his retirement.
Bishop Carlson has served as past president of the National Foundation for Catholic Youth Ministry, past chair of the United States Catholic Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Vocations and its Ad Hoc Committee on Youth, and a member of its Committee on Laity. Currently, he is Episcopal Advisor for the Cursillo Movement/Region VI, and chair of the USCCB Committee for Catholic Charismatic Renewal. His memberships include the Canon Law Society of America, the USCCB Subcommittee on Youth and Young Adults, and president of the Bishop’s Advisory Board at the Institute of Priestly Formation in Omaha, Neb. On October 3, 1998 Bishop Carlson received the Humanitarian of the Year Award from South Dakota Right to Life.
Michigan Catholic Conference in the past two weeks has distributed to all 803 parishes across the state its latest Focus publication titled “On the Ethics of Stem Cell Research” in an effort to foster understanding of stem cell research while conveying the Catholic Church’s position of support for adult stem cell research. The publication is intended to educate Michigan residents on the profound differences between adult and embryonic stem cell research and the considerable moral and ethical questions involved.
“With an issue as important as stem cell research being debated at the national level, it is critical for the residents of Michigan to understand that adult stem cell research is currently treating dozens of diseases without destroying human embryos,” said MCC Vice President for Public Policy Paul A. Long. “The Michigan Catholic Conference, in its defense of human life from conception until natural death, is willing to take the lead to ensure that stem cell research is neither a partisan nor political issue, but one of human and civil rights.”
Adult stem cells are present in the umbilical cord of newborns and last in a person’s body throughout his or her life. While extracting stem cells from embryos to establish embryonic stem cell lines kills embryos, neither the use of adult stem cells nor the establishment of adult stem cell lines involves a disproportionate risk to the individual from whom the cells are taken.
Focus, which is being distributed to all Catholic colleges and high schools across the state, including the parishes, features a short essay titled “The Ethics of Stem Cell Research” by Dr. Peter Cataldo, Ph.D., research director of the National Catholic Bioethics Center. The essay explains the differences between adult and embryonic stem cell research, and addresses the fact that adult stem cells are currently treating at least 56 diseases in a manner that is ethically sound. Questions and answers from the USCCB Pro-Life Office related to stem cell research are also published.
According to the essay: “The prospect of curing many debilitating conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Diabetes, Alzheimer’s and paralysis (or at least significantly lessening the suffering they cause) through stem cell research and therapy has captured the ethical and political attention of the world. The fact that there is so much at stake in stem cell research makes the issue a defining one for America.”
In what has been an ongoing struggle for the past three years to revamp Michigan’s economy, lawmakers and the administration are attempting new strategies this year to overcome the current and next fiscal year’s multi-million dollar budget shortfalls.
Last month Governor Granholm, in an effort to deal with the current fiscal year’s deficit, presented the House and Senate Appropriation Committees a $381 million budget cutting Executive Order. The E.O. passed the House Appropriations Committee but was struck down by the Senate that same day after questions of constitutionality. The Governor then had thirty days to issue a new Order and is expected to do so next week.
Also last month the governor presented the Legislature a $41.2 billion budget for the 2005–06 fiscal year. The proposal made recommendations in the areas of Education, Health and Human Services, Environment, Economy, Hometown Security and Better Government. The budget was produced in the midst of a 7.3 percent unemployment rate, and is now fluctuating around the 7.1 percent area—among the worst in the nation.
Both the Republican-controlled Legislature and the Democratic Governor’s office have sought the wisdom of outside influence to help control the state’s budgeting problems and reorganize the way the budget is assembled. Last year both branches of government announced they were to approach budget issues as prescribed in the book “The Price of Government” by David Osborne and Peter Hutchinson. The “new” concept of the book is to build the state budget from the bottom up, rather than just cutting from the top.
A part of this “zero-based budgeting” approach is to engage in “budget results teams,” which brings together legislators from both chambers and both sides of the aisle assessing the differing needs of the state and determining their priority level amongst the state’s citizens. Areas being addressed by lawmakers include:
- “The Economy is Thriving and People are Working,”
- “Kids are Succeeding in Schools,”
- “People are Prepared for Jobs and the New Economy,”
- “Our Natural Resources are Protected and Preserved,”
- “People are Safe Where They Live, Work and Play,”
- “People are Healthy,”
- “The Most Vulnerable Live Free from Harm and as Self-Sufficiently as Possible,”
- “People and Goods Move Around the State Quickly and Safely,”
- “Government is Effective, Efficient and Accountable.”
Once the “budget results teams” have concluded their meetings recommendations will be made to both the Senate and House Appropriation committees, who will then craft departmental budgets for review by the full Legislature. Lawmakers have time to make critical decisions as the current fiscal year does not end until September 30. The Governor is constitutionally mandated to have the current budget balanced by the start of the next fiscal year.
While the Legislature and the administration are assessing needs of the state and discussing where cuts must be made, the Michigan Catholic Conference has identified areas of concern within the Governor’s budget-cutting executive order for the current fiscal year and her 2005–06 budget recommendations. Those areas of concern include:
- A freeze on Medicaid enrollment for 19 and 20 year old young adults and caretaker relatives,
- Extending the Family Independence Agency waiting period for daycare benefits to 30 days,
- Eliminating tuition grants paid to students at private colleges, and
- Eliminating certain adoption support services.
This week former state representative Lynne Martinez, director of the Office of Children’s Ombudsman, recommended in the state agency’s 2003 annual report to the Family Independence Agency (FIA) “the Michigan Adoption Code be amended to permit adoption of a child by two adults who are not married if the court determines it is in the child’s best interest.”
The report may be viewed at: http://www.michigan.gov/oco
Rationale behind the decisions reads: “All decisions regarding who should be given consent to legally adopt a child should be based on parental fitness, not on marital status. Currently, two unrelated adults residing in the same household may both be licensed by the state to foster a child. However, the current requirement in the Adoption Code requires that an adoptive parent be either a single person or a married couple. Current statute does not permit two unmarried couples to adopt.”
The Michigan Office of Children’s Ombudsman is an independent government agency established in 1994. The Act establishing the agency gives the Ombudsman authority to investigate complaints about children in Michigan’s child welfare system. The agency investigates the actions, decisions, policies and protocols of the FIA and child placing agencies as they relate to a particular child. The Ombudsman also makes recommendations to the Governor, Legislature, and FIA for changes in child welfare laws, rules, and policies.
The Michigan Catholic Conference has composed a letter to Ms. Marianne Udow, Director of the Family Independence Agency, which states in part:
“The Office of Children’s Ombudsman’s recommendation to amend the adoption code is a direct contradiction to the responsibilities of the state to enact policy that strengthens marriage for the benefit our society and especially our children. Ms. Udow, I respectfully ask you to place the greatest emphasis on long-term child welfare when considering any adoption code amendment, and to uphold the tradition of the great state of Michigan to strive to provide children with the best possible environment—a married mother and father.”