In This Week’s Lansing Update:
Three weeks ago the Michigan Legislature began its lame duck session, the period between the November election and the end of the legislative session. Earlier this morning the Michigan House of Representatives and the State Senate held their final votes of the year. Below is a run-down of the issues that were of interest to the Michigan Catholic Conference and how they fared in the lame duck period.
Abortion Industry Reforms (HB 5711)
After the State Senate passed House legislation on Wednesday that would require abortion clinics in Michigan to be licensed and inspected, Michigan Catholic Conference is proud to announce that the Michigan Legislature approved House Bill 5711 this morning [Link no longer available —Ed.]. Click here to read MCC’s statement about the bill, which will now be sent to Governor Snyder.
Abortion Coverage in Health Care Plans (SB 1293-1294)
Last week, the Michigan House and Senate passed legislation that prohibits health plans from including coverage for elective abortions, unless an employee purchases an optional rider. Michigan Catholic Conference was pleased that the Legislature passed the bills, which would protect individuals from having to contribute financially to another person’s abortion. The legislation now heads to the Governor’s desk.
Health Care Sharing Ministries (HB 5805)
Legislation that permits Health Care Sharing Ministries in the state, which are faith-based nonprofit entities that allow individuals of a similar faith to provide for the financial or medical needs of other participants through voluntary contributions, passed the Legislature yesterday. MCC supported the bills, which will now be sent to Governor Snyder for approval.
Michigan Energy Assistance Act (SB 1135)
This bill, which would require the Michigan Department of Human Services to establish and administer the Michigan Energy Assistance Program to help eligible low-income individuals pay their energy bills, passed the House yesterday and was concurred by the Senate today. The program would also include services that enable its participants to move toward energy self-sufficiency. The bill will now be sent to Governor Snyder for consideration.
Religious Liberty and Conscience Protection Act (SB 975)
Significant progress was made on Senate Bill 975, the “Religious Liberty and Conscience Protection Act,” this session. After passing the Senate earlier this month, the bill passed the House Committee on Insurance Wednesday afternoon. MCC testified in support of the legislation, which would protect health care providers and payers from having to provide or pay for services that violate their religious beliefs. While Michigan Catholic Conference is pleased with the grassroots support for the bill (over 1,200 messages were sent!), it is disappointing the bill was not acted upon by the House of Representatives before the session ended. This issue will be a priority for the MCC next year.
Conscience Rights for Faith-Based Agencies (HB 5763-5764)
Over the course of this lame duck session, bills that would provide conscience protections to faith-based adoption and foster care agencies passed the House Committee on Families, Children, and Seniors. Although the bills did not pass the House this session, MCC will continue to work with legislators on its passage next year.
Indigent Defense Legislation (HB 5804)
During the year, Michigan Catholic Conference worked to advance legislation that would create the Indigent Defense Commission and establish minimum standards for indigent defense across the state. The bill passed the House after the November election and was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, but no further action was taken this session. MCC will continue to work for reforming how Michigan provides for indigent defense, which is currently underfunded and failing to constitutionally protect indigent persons who have been accused of a crime.
Concealed Weapons in Churches (SB 59)
Yesterday, Senate Bill 59 passed the Michigan House of Representatives after it passed the Committee on Natural Resources, Tourism, and Outdoor Recreation on Wednesday [Link no longer available —Ed.]. Michigan Catholic Conference is disappointed with the passage of the legislation, which would eliminate gun free zones (such as churches, schools, bars, hospitals, and stadiums) and allow concealed weapons to be carried in these areas. Private property owners that were previously included under gun free zones (such as churches, hospitals, bars) could still prohibit the carrying of concealed weapons on the property and could post a sign letting visitors know they cannot carry guns, but MCC is concerned that enforcement would be difficult. The bill is headed to the Governor for his consideration.
Michigan Catholic Conference would like to say thank you very much to all who contacted their legislators throughout the year and during the lame duck session. Several significant policy issues were addressed and the Catholic voice on these issues were heard loud and clear as thousands of messages were sent to elected officials in Lansing! While we will celebrate the successes, we will also plan to continue working on those issues that did not pass this session. In the coming weeks a 2011-2012 session-end analysis will be published that highlights all of the year’s action. Again, thank you for speaking out in support of the common good!