- Refugees and Catholic Social Teaching the Topic of New FOCUS
- Budget Discussions Beginning in Michigan Legislature
- Debate Continues on Measures to Address Detroit Public School Debt
- Senate Legislation Prohibits Sale of Human Tissue or Cells
- Criminal Justice Legislation Awaits Further Consideration in House
- Bill to Halt Expansion of Nude Bars Now in House Committee
- Gaylord Bishop Gives Invocation to Begin Senate Session
Refugees and Catholic Social Teaching the Topic of New FOCUS
Throughout the nation’s history, refugees have escaped persecution or violence in their home countries and have sought safe haven in America. Michigan Catholic Conference’s March FOCUS provides an overview of the U.S. refugee resettlement process and the approval waiting period that typically lasts 18 to 24 months. In addition, this FOCUS examines Catholic Social Teaching regarding refugees and migrants. It speaks about the need to improve living conditions in home countries, to see the human face of the refugees and the displaced, and to welcome and assist individuals chosen for resettlement. Several Catholic organizations are working in these areas, including two local Catholic Charities agencies.
Budget Discussions Beginning in Michigan Legislature
Earlier this month, Governor Rick Snyder presented his budget recommendations for Fiscal Year 2017 (October 2016–September 2017) to lawmakers. Here are a few of proposals of interest to Michigan Catholic Conference from those recommendations:
- $195 million to help address the Flint water crisis by providing safe drinking water; food and nutrition programs; various initiatives to help children exposed to lead; and relief for water bills, among other aspects.
- $25.6 million more funding for the Healthy Kids Dental program, which would expand coverage to all 83 Michigan counties. Approximately 131,000 children would be added from Wayne, Oakland, and Kent counties.
- A $6.1 million increase of funding to enhance and expand the clothing allowance for children, which helps low-income children purchase clothes for school. Each child would receive $200 a year, up from $140, and 25,000 additional children could participate in the program.
- $34 million total for the Tuition Grant Program, which assists low-income Michigan residents to attend independent colleges (same amount as last year).
- A $2 million increase to the Tuition Incentive Program, which helps Medicaid recipients attend a public or independent college, to raise the program cost to $50.5 million total.
Funding was not included in the governor’s budget recommendations for Michigan’s Pregnancy and Parenting Support Program, a pro-life program that assists low-income women seeking an alternative to abortion. MCC staff will be working closely with legislators to seek funding to continue this pivotal program.
Debate Continues on Measures to Address Detroit Public School Debt
The Detroit Public School (DPS) District has an accumulated debt in excess of $500 million. Approximately $1,100 of the per pupil foundation grant goes to debt service each year rather than to students in the classroom. The district is expected to run out of operating funds in April 2016. Current proposals to address this situation, including from Governor Snyder and from each of the lawmakers that have introduced legislation, advocate for splitting Detroit Public Schools into two separate districts. The new district would operate schools and academic programs, while the former DPS would exist solely for the purpose for paying off the debt.
Governor Snyder recommended in his budget proposal that $72 million per year from Michigan’s tobacco settlement proceeds be placed in a Detroit Public Schools Trust Fund each year for ten years. This trust fund will be used to offset the loss of local tax revenue needed to retire the existing district’s debt, protecting all other districts from reduced financial resources. As part of the governor’s ten-year, $720 million plan, $200 million provides for start-up and transition costs for a new Detroit Community School District, including space consolidation, academic and instructional support, and investment in key academic programs. Legislatively, one of the leading proposals for DPS reform comes from Senator Geoff Hansen (R-Hart), who introduced two bills in January and four more this week (SBs 710–711, 819–822). A bill package was also introduced by a group of House Republicans this week (HBs 5382–5387), and a several policy recommendations have been put forth by a group of House Democrats from Detroit. Much of the discussion thus far about the various measures focuses on the lack of a Detroit Education Commission, initially proposed by Governor Snyder last year that would oversee enrollment of all public schools in Detroit, the issue of an appointed rather than an elected school board, and an A–F letter grading system for public schools. Michigan Catholic Conference is monitoring all proposals and will keep members apprised as further information is available.
Senate Legislation Prohibits Sale of Human Tissue or Cells
Last week, the Senate Oversight Committee approved legislation to ban the sale of fetal tissue and body parts obtained through elective abortion. Senate Bills 564 and 565, sponsored by Senator Phil Pavlov (R-St. Clair), specifically prohibits a person from receiving compensation or financial benefit from the distribution or transfer of organs, tissues, cells, or other parts of an embryo, fetus, or neonate. The bills now await a further vote on the Senate floor. Michigan Catholic Conference supports the measures, which address issues brought to light in recent videos about Planned Parenthood’s practice of supplying fetal tissue from elective abortions for research.
Criminal Justice Legislation Awaits Further Consideration in House
Earlier this month, the House Criminal Justice Committee unanimously moved a package of bills forward in the legislative process that would reform the juvenile justice system. Among other aspects, House Bills 4947–4966 return the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 18, prevent youth under age 18 from being housed with adult prisoners, allow a judge flexibility when considering a waiver request during sentencing, and modifies the current state and county funding allocation to the Child Care Fund, which will help counties to provide rehabilitative services for youth. The package is sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans and is now before the full House for further discussion. Michigan Catholic Conference strongly supports the measures and will continue to advocate for their passage.
Bill to Halt Expansion of Nude Bars Now in House Committee
Legislation to prohibit full nudity in an establishment that sells alcohol passed the Michigan Senate earlier in February by a 27–10 vote. Senate Bill 302, sponsored by Senator Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge), addresses the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that Michigan’s liquor rules banning full nudity are unconstitutional as written, while reinstating long-standing policy. MCC supports the bill, which is now before the House Committee on Regulatory Reform for further consideration.
Gaylord Bishop Gives Invocation to Begin Senate Session
This past Tuesday, Bishop Steven Raica of the Diocese of Gaylord opened Senate session with a prayer. He was invited as a guest of Senator Jim Stamas (R-Midland). Here is the text of his prayer:
"O God, Father of all, we thank You for giving us the splendor of a new day. As we look around us, the magnificent beauty of our pleasant peninsulas reflects Your love and affection for us. Through our work for the good of all, help us to care for our common home. May this Water Winter Wonderland that is dear to us be preserved for the benefit of future generations. We pray for the women and men of this Senate. May they be imbued with wisdom, knowledge, and understanding to represent their constituents. Through dialogue, hearings, and debates, may the issues before us reach a consensus echoing the respect for the inestimable dignity of all, the protection of the vulnerable, and honorable and timely solutions to ensure the health and welfare of the citizens of Michigan. Thus, may the aspirations and dreams, liberty, and justice for our brothers and sisters be realized. We pray for Your blessing, Lord, as we undertake our daily work. May all we accomplish be done for Your greater honor and glory. Begging that Your Spirit renew the face of the earth and each of us, we ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen."
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