With the flip of a calendar page a New Year has begun, and along with it, a new legislative session. This new term, which moves into high gear after the Governor’s State of the State speech, marks another opportunity for Catholic advocacy to promote the dignity of all Michiganders. While there is much work to do in the new session, let us first pause and reflect upon a few encouraging policies supported by Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) that went into law the past two years.
A significant piece of legislation approved early last session recognizes the right for faith-based child placement agencies to serve Michigan’s vulnerable children in a manner consistent with their religious mission, as they always have. MCC and Catholic Charities agencies advocated strongly for the legislation, despite aggressive challenges from organizations hostile to faith-based agencies providing services in the public square to vulnerable persons. Michigan’s children deserve loving homes in foster care and in adoptive placements. Having a wide variety of quality providers serves children well, and faith-based agencies have long been a critical partner of the State of Michigan in providing first-rate care and services.
The 2015–2016 legislative session also saw victories for students. The state budget included, for the first time, a line-item to reimburse nonpublic schools for the cost of health, safety, and welfare mandates placed upon them by the State. This $2.5 million appropriation from the general fund recognizes that all kids across Michigan deserve to be educated in an environment that is both healthy and safe. Expanding shared time services to kindergarten and providing funding to help low-income individuals attend college both assist students in need and offer greater learning opportunities for both public and nonpublic schools.
Additionally, the 98th Michigan Legislature approved measures that promote the dignity of the human person. To protect vulnerable women, legislation was passed to prohibit and penalize individuals who coerce a woman into having an abortion. Funding was also secured for a fourth year in a row to provide material assistance and counseling to pregnant women from conception through the first year of her child’s life. To further promote the well-being of vulnerable children, lawmakers expanded access to dental services in all of Michigan’s counties, increased monetary aid to low-income families for the purchase of school clothing, and included funding to reimburse all schools that test their drinking water for lead.
To make daily living expenses more affordable, lawmakers expanded Homestead Property Tax Credit qualifications for low-and middle-income individuals, provided additional state energy assistance, and increased food assistance by $79 per month per eligible family. And to restore the dignity of those who have been victimized, lawmakers passed bills that protect the privacy of domestic violence victims, expunge certain crimes from the record of human trafficking victims, and allow the wrongfully imprisoned and exonerated to receive compensation and access to services for re-entry into society.
It is important to note that, regrettably, legislation was also introduced to overturn Michigan’s constitutional ban on capital punishment and another bill sought to overturn the statutory ban on assisted suicide. While the latter did not receive consideration from lawmakers, MCC added its vocal opposition during a brief debate about reinstating the death penalty in Michigan. Thankfully the legislation was discarded without a committee hearing. Both policies, capital punishment and assisted suicide, inherently violate the dignity of the human person and seek to solve complex problems with oversimplified, harmful solutions. MCC will continue to advocate against these measures should they be reintroduced.
The legislative discussions and outcomes that took place in 2015–2016 demonstrate the need for citizen advocacy. The breadth of Catholic social teaching serves as a blueprint for good public policy. As lawmakers write legislation, hear testimony, and vote on bills, they are best served when constituents bring forth their thoughts about pending legislation. They are also well served when hearing from advocacy organizations speaking on behalf of the state’s most vulnerable citizens. Concerned individuals and those wishing to participate in the process are encouraged to make their voices heard and to promote the common good through the Catholic Advocacy Network. More about MCC’s grassroots email platform can be found at www.micatholic.org/can/.