Lansing Update: June 24, 2005

In this issue of Lansing Update:

  1. MCC Calls For Preferential Treatment of State’a Poor and Vulnerable
  2. Support Urged for Federal Fair Housing Proposal
  3. Bishop Walter Hurley Named Bishop of Grand Rapids Diocese
  4. Attorney General Rules Merit Board Cannot Require Service
  5. House Allocates Additional Dollars to Lower-Funded Schools
  6. Legislature Moving ‘Pupil Protection’ Measures

MCC Calls For Preferential Treatment of State’a Poor and Vulnerable

The Michigan Catholic Conference this week stood with several health care and human service organizations at a news conference at the State Capitol to speak on behalf of those most vulnerable citizens who will be directly affected by some $600 million in proposed state budget cuts, particularly in the area of Medicaid.

“For over 40 years the Michigan Catholic Conference has dedicated its advocacy efforts to the promotion and defense of human life with preferential treatment for the poor of our society,” said Michigan Catholic Conference Vice President for Public Policy Paul A. Long. “Indeed, a clear indication of the moral strength of a society is the assistance it provides its most needy citizens. Unfortunately, proposals passing the Legislature do not provide such a moral statement, but rather are assembled in a fashion that will produce harmful ramifications for those who need state assistance most.”

Legislative proposals to balance the 2005–06 state budget include the following detrimental cuts to human services:

On June 9, the House of Representatives passed a 700-page omnibus bill that allocated spending to several state departments that included the proposals mentioned above. Last week, the state Senate passed its version of departmental budgets that also produced consequences for the state’s poor population. The administration, House and Senate leaders will now bring their differing budget plans to conference committee in order to find compromise on a 2005–06 spending budget that is constitutionally mandated to be in place prior to October 1, 2005.

Also in attendance at the news conference was the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, Michigan League for Human Services, Michigan Federation for Children and Families, Michigan’s Children, Sparrow Health and Hospital System and the Michigan Osteopathic Association.

Support Urged for Federal Fair Housing Proposal

Affordable housing advocates have made the case to Congress that new funds are needed to build, preserve and rehab housing that the lowest income families can afford. That goal is now within reach.

On May 25, by a vote of 65-5, the House Financial Services Committee approved H.R. 1461—the Federal Housing Finance Reform Act of 2005, a bill that requires Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to put 5 percent of their after-tax profits into an Affordable Housing Fund to support housing production for extremely and very low income families. Similar legislation is expected in the Senate shortly.

Michigan Catholic Conference is asking for your support to help urge members of Congress to support this important measure. While Congress will adjourn for the July 4th recess on July 1 and be in their home districts through July 11, it is important that they hear from constituents who support fair housing.

Please take a moment to email your congressperson and ask him or her to support H.R. 1461.

Bishop Walter Hurley Named Bishop of Grand Rapids Diocese

This week Pope Benedict XVI announced the appointment of Bishop Walter A. Hurley, D.D. as the 11th bishop for the Diocese of Grand Rapids. Bishop Hurley for the past two years has served as an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Detroit. He succeeds Bishop Kevin Britt, who died May 2004.

“During his forty years of priestly and episcopal ministry, Bishop Hurley has distinguished himself as a faithful and caring servant with a deep love for the Church,” said Cardinal Adam Maida, chairman of the MCC Board of Directors. “While I shall miss his good counsel and support, I am truly delighted that he will now shepherd a flock of his own along the shores of Lake Michigan. I am confident that the Diocese of Grand Rapids will be richly blessed by his ministry in the years to come.”

Bishop Hurley is a canon lawyer and is the regional bishop for the Northwest Region of the Archdiocese (Lapeer and Oakland Counties) and serves as the Delegate of the Cardinal for Clergy Misconduct issues.

Bishop Hurley was born May 30, 1937 in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada and was ordained to the priesthood on June 5, 1965 at the Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Detroit. He was ordained a bishop August 12, 2003 and will be installed as the 11th bishop of Grand Rapids August 4, 2005 at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Grand Rapids.

Attorney General Rules Merit Board Cannot Require Service

Michigan’s Merit Award Board—which issues the state’s Merit scholarship to eligible high school students—is without authority to impose a community service requirement for the award, Attorney General Mike Cox ruled Tuesday.

The board last year, acting at the instigation of Governor Jennifer Granholm who called for the provision in her 2004 State of the State address, added a requirement that students also show that they had completed 40 hours of voluntary community service in order to be eligible for the scholarship. Administration officials cited authority for doing so in the scholarship law’s language basing the awards on tests and any additional eligibility requirements set by the board.

But in opinion No. 7176, Mr. Cox said the authorizing statute gives the Merit Board only authority to add requirements that increase access to college education.

“The requirement that students complete 40 hours of voluntary community service in order to qualify for a merit scholarship neither increases access to postsecondary education nor rewards Michigan high school graduates for their academic achievements. Thus the voluntary community service eligibility requirement is not within the matters authorized by the board’s enabling statute,” Mr. Cox said.

The question was raised in August by Rep. Brian Palmer (R-Romeo), chair of the House Education Committee, who said that while other factors are desirable, the scholarship should be based on merit.

Michigan Catholic Conference has supported the concept of the Merit Scholarships since its inception in 2002 due to its ability to help poor and low-income students attend college.

House Allocates Additional Dollars to Lower-Funded Schools

Lower-funded school districts would receive additional money to help narrow the gap between them and higher-funded districts under a school aid bill passed this week by the House of Representatives.

Each district would receive an additional $175 per pupil—the amount recommended by the Administration and passed last week by the Senate. But most of the $25 million that House Republicans had slated to begin a new program to boost middle school math classes would instead be redirected to the lower-funded districts.

Districts whose per pupil foundation grant would be below $7,200 after the $175 increase would receive an extra $25 per pupil, creating effectively a new minimum foundation grant of $6,900 compared to the current minimum of $6,700. For those districts that would surpass $7,200 with the extra $25, they would receive only enough to take them to $7,200.

The overall 2005–06 K–12 budget, as passed by the House, is $12.783 billion ($96.4 million general fund), a 2.5 percent increase from the current year.

Legislature Moving ‘Pupil Protection’ Measures

Michigan school children would be considered safer under legislation slated for quick movement through the Legislature.

In an attempt to keep felons and other dangerous persons away from school property, a 14-bill package has been introduced that would bar employment of all school and daycare center personnel if they did not notify their district of new charges against them. Current Michigan law bars employment of teachers convicted of sex offenses and other crimes. The new package is designed, in part, to address gaps in current procedures requiring prosecutors to notify the Department of Education when teachers are convicted.

Michigan Catholic Conference staff has testified in support of the bills, which would also:

MCC staff has also expressed its willingness to work on amended legislation to ensure the constitutionality of the bills.

Legislature to Meet Only on Wednesdays Throughout the Summer: The House and Senate, which had been scheduled to recess for July and nearly all of August, announced this week it will meet every Wednesday through the summer as it negotiates with the Administration on the budget, taxes and economic development.