In This Week’s Lansing Update:
- Low-Income Heating Discussion Resumes in Senate
- School Attendance Religious Liberty Bill Passes Committee
- Discussion Begins on Indigent Defense Reform
- Senators Hold Human Trafficking Legislative Day in Lansing
- House Unveils Adoption Package
- Drug-Screening Bill Headed to Senate
This week the Senate Energy and Technology Committee unanimously passed Senate Bill 284, introduced by Senator Mike Nofs (R-Battle Creek). The legislation would create a fund to provide energy assistance to eligible low-income households. Under the legislation, the Michigan Public Service Commission would be in charge of issuing an annual surcharge on the bill of electric customers to pay for this fund, capped at $60 million a year. The legislation allows for adjustments to be made based on the amount appropriated by the Legislature for low-income heating during the budget process. The current House passed version of the Fiscal Year 2014 budget allocates $60 million in funding for this purpose. If that funding remains through the 2014 budget process, there will be no surcharge in 2014. This may not always be the case going forward. If the Legislature appropriates $50 million, for example, the mechanism in this bill allows for a surcharge of $10 million to be raised. Michigan Catholic Conference participated in a thorough workgroup process on this issue and supports the bill’s passage.
The House Education Committee unanimously approved House Bill 4454, introduced by Representative Kate Segal (D-Battle Creek), which would prohibit a public school from counting school absences due to religious holidays or observances against a student’s attendance record. Michigan Catholic Conference testified in support of this bipartisan religious liberty measure, stating that students should not be penalized and made ineligible from attendance awards or recognition because they exercised their rights to practice their religion, as protected by both the United States and State of Michigan constitutions.
This week, the House Criminal Justice Committee heard testimony on House Bills 4529 and 4530, introduced by Representative Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills) that would create a Michigan Indigent Defense Commission (MIDC). The MIDC would set standards for county indigent defense programs, ensuring that they meet the American Bar Association's principles for a proper indigent defense system. Local indigent defense systems would be required to maintain current levels of financial support for their system, and the State of Michigan would pay any excess amount for the system to meet the MIDC’s minimum standards. MCC expects to testify in support of the legislation in the coming weeks, contending that all citizens, regardless of their income level, should have their constitutional right to qualified and adequate legal counsel. Michigan is considered to have one of the most problematic and least efficient means by which counsel is provided to those who are financially unable to hire their own defense.
The four women of the Michigan Senate this week held a Human Trafficking Legislative Day to raise awareness about human trafficking and to discuss how it can be addressed through the legislative process. Michigan Catholic Conference was proud to support this event. Earlier in the week, the Lansing State Journal and MLive printed an op/ed from the Catholic Conference about the horrors of human trafficking and how this form of modern day slavery deprives women and young girls of their fundamental rights and human dignity. To read it, click here [Link no longer available —Ed.].
A package of bills was introduced in the House of Representatives this week to streamline the adoption process, including legislation that would establish a State Responsible Father Registry for putative fathers (HB 4659-4662). Another bill in the package, which was considered this week along with two others by the House Committee on Families, Children and Seniors would place a 72-hour time limit for a mother to revoke consent for an adoption (HBs 4646-4648). House Bills 4649 and 4650 also seek to establish a foster care bill of rights for foster care parents and increase reimbursements for certain foster care adoption expenses. Michigan Catholic Conference is supportive of the legislative package after discussing the details of the bills with those Catholic entities that provide child placement services in the state.
This week the House passed House Bill 4118, introduced by Representative Jeff Farrington (R-Utica), which would authorize the Department of Human Services (DHS) to conduct a suspicion-based drug screening program for those who receive Family Independence Program (FIP) assistance. As mentioned in a recent Lansing Update, the legislation has made several positive changes since its introduction. Those who test positive may be able to continue to receive assistance provided that they also seek treatment, which will be paid in most cases by Medicaid. For those who test negative, the state will pay the costs of the test. The policy would launch a one-year pilot project in three counties across the state. MCC will continue to monitor the bill’s movement.