Lansing Update: September 23, 2005

In this issue of Lansing Update:

  1. Action Alert: Urge U.S. Senators to Support Educational Equality
  2. Michigan’s Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Ruled Unconstitutional
  3. Fiscal Year 2005–06 State Budget Update

Action Alert: Urge U.S. Senators to Support Educational Equality

Michigan Catholic Conference is asking Catholics across the state to contact U.S. Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow urging equality in education for those students and families affected by Hurricane Katrina. On September 15 Senator Michael Enzi (R-WY) introduced legislation appropriating funds to public schools and public school academies whose rolls swelled with Katrina evacuee students.

While the Michigan Catholic Conference does not dispute the need for the funds, the organization finds the lack of support for private schools, regardless of denomination, unacceptable and discriminatory. Undoubtedly, the hurricane did not choose which students to displace; therefore, Congress should lend assistance to all those school districts, public or private, that have accepted students displaced by the hurricane. To date, the Dioceses of Saginaw, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and the Archdiocese of Detroit have all accepted students at no cost.

Please take a brief moment to contact Senators Levin and Stabenow through the Catholic Legislative Advocacy Network.

Michigan’s Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Ruled Unconstitutional

On September 14 U.S. District Court Judge Denise Paige Hood ruled Michigan’s citizen initiated legislation banning partial-birth abortion unconstitutional. Michigan Catholic Conference President and C.E.O. Sister Monica Kostielney, RSM, made the following public statement regarding Judge Hood’s decision:

“Obviously today’s ruling is a setback; a setback for women, for unborn children and for the protection of innocent human life. Consequently, the dedicated fight to end heinous partial-birth abortions will continue. It is the sincere hope of the Michigan Catholic Conference that the Attorney General will appeal Judge Hood’s decision to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court.

“The Michigan Catholic Conference disagrees with the judge’s decision that the Legal Birth Definition Act presents an ‘undue burden’ and is unconstitutionally vague. We look forward to the Sixth Circuit Court upholding the state law based on the adequate health protection as previously ruled in the Taft decision.”

Judge Hood ruled that the law was unconstitutional for the following reasons: the law presents an undue burden on the right to reproductive choice; the law does not provide an adequate health exemption, and the law is unconstitutionally vague.

Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox has stated his intention to appeal Judge Hood’s ruling to the Sixth Circuit and is expected to make a public statement when the appeal is filed. Michigan Catholic Conference will continue to support the Attorney General in his attempts to have Judge Hood’s ruling overturned.

Fiscal Year 2005–06 State Budget Update

Facing a constitutional obligation to balance the 2005–06 state budget by October 1, the Legislature and Administration have compromised on nearly all points of difference for the coming fiscal year. Departmental budgets and respective programs of concern to the Michigan Catholic Conference are listed below:

Department of Community Health

Nearly all cuts to Medicaid and Department of Community Health programs were jettisoned under the compromise 2005–06 budget bill for the department approved by a House-Senate conference committee, including a 4 percent reduction to Medicaid providers—which was softened to a 3 percent cut.

The DCH budget (SB 267) does include new co-payments for Medicaid recipients—$1 for outpatient services, $2 on physician services, $3 on emergency room visits and $50 on the first day of an in-patient hospital stay, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency. The co-pays would raise $2.3 million in new revenue.

House Republicans had proposed, with Catholic Conference staff vehemently opposing, discontinuing Medicaid coverage for 30,000 caretaker relatives and for 13,000 19- and 20-year-olds, but these recipients will retain their coverage. The budget instead calls for $12.5 million in general fund savings by changing the payments to hospitals for caretaker relatives.

A $20 million reduction to the Detroit-Wayne County Community Mental Healthy agency was restored with MIChild enrollment policies remaining unchanged.

Dental coverage for adults was restored, along with hearing and vision screening services for schoolchildren partially restored. The Administration had sought to cut this program.

Department of Human Services

There was no objection in conference committee to the budget that provides the state’s welfare programs. As expected, the $4.428 billion DHS budget saw a 3.9 percent increase over the current year and does not include House provisions that limit Family Independence Program recipients to 48 months of benefits over their lifetime.

In addition, a $3 daily increase to $37 for foster care payments, restoration of the marriage and fatherhood initiatives and a $500,000 increase in federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families funds were all solidified.

Funding for welfare cases dropped $12.7 million from the governor’s recommendation under the expectation of fewer cases for the coming year, with the budget coming in $52,100 below the general fund target.

Senator Bill Hardiman (R-Kentwood), chair of the Senate Department of Human Services Appropriation subcommittee who fought for the restoration of assistance dollars, has mentioned the need to convene a bi-cameral committee to study welfare reform next year.

Michigan Tuition Grant Program

The Administration had called for eliminating the Michigan Tuition Grant Program that provides scholarships to students at private colleges while the House passed a 2 percent cut. But the compromise version matches the Senate-passed cut of 4.9 percent. Among the Catholic schools in Michigan accepting the tuition grant dollars are the University of Detroit Mercy, Sienna Heights University, Marygrove University, Madonna University, Aquinas College and Saint Mary’s College Orchard Lake.

School Aid Budget

Concerns about gaps in school funding were put on hold this week as the House granted passage for the 2005–06 school aid budget that would increase per student funding across the board. Legislators approved a $175 increase per student on a 107-2 vote, raising the minimum amount of state aid to $6,875 per pupil.

Legislation that passed the House earlier this year and would have added an additional $25 per student to lower-funded districts was not included in the version passed by the House. A conference committee that met earlier in the week to discuss HB 4887 agreed that funding disparities should be evaluated and revisited by the Legislature but agreed in the interest of compromise to wait until next year.