Lansing Update: February 9, 2006

In this issue of Lansing Update:

  1. Bishop Sample Joins Michigan Catholic Conference Board of Directors
  2. Michigan Catholic Conference Testifies Against Contraceptive Mandates
  3. Stem Cell Issue Comes to Forefront in Michigan
  4. House Education Committee Addresses Mandated High School Curriculum
  5. Governor Releases 2006–07 Executive Budget Recommendations

Bishop Sample Joins Michigan Catholic Conference Board of Directors

Bishop Alex Sample, who was installed as the 12th bishop of the Diocese of Marquette on Jan. 25, has joined the Michigan Catholic Conference board of directors as a diocesan bishop of the Province of Detroit, which includes all seven dioceses of the state. His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI appointed Bishop Sample on December 13th, 2005.

“Bishop Sample brings an immense amount of knowledge, leadership and experience to the Conference’s board of directors and we eagerly look forward to his insight and guidance on matters concerning Church and state,” said Michigan Catholic Conference President and Chief Executive Officer Sister Monica Kostielney, R.S.M.

Biographical information of Bishop Sample is available here. Photos of his ordination and installation Mass, which took place at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Marquette, may be viewed here.

Bishop Sample succeeds Bishop James Garland, whose retirement was accepted by the Holy Father simultaneously with Bishop Sample’s appointment.

Michigan Catholic Conference Testifies Against Contraceptive Mandates

Michigan Catholic Conference staff this week testified before the Senate Health Policy Committee to oppose legislation that would mandate insurance providers to include contraceptives in their health care plans.

The legislation, Senate Bills 431 and 432, would mandate employers to cover contraceptives if they offer other FDA approved pharmaceuticals.

According to MCC Vice President for Public Policy Paul A. Long, “The Michigan Catholic Conference opposes Senate Bills 431 and 432 because we believe them to be a direct assault upon the religious freedom rights of religious employers in general and the Catholic Church in particular. This legislation would impose a mandate upon Catholic religious institutions to provide contraceptive insurance coverage, coercing essential ministries of the Catholic Church under the color of law to act contrary to one of the Church’s most profound religious teachings on matters of morality and social justice.”

Senate Health Policy Committee chair Sen. Beverly Hammerstrom (R-Temperance) did not take a vote on the bills, instead only allowing testimony from organizations supporting or opposing the legislation.

Stem Cell Issue Comes to Forefront in Michigan

Since efforts have surfaced recently in Lansing to repeal the state’s ban on human cloning to allow for embryonic stem cell research, the Michigan Catholic Conference has taken the opportunity to educate the public on this most important issue.

In her State of the State Address January 25, the governor told the gathered crowd of senators, representatives, Supreme Court judges, as well as the viewing audience, that limits on stem cell research in Michigan must be lifted in order to help spur an otherwise downtrodden economy. The governor did not differentiate between adult and embryonic stem cells, and failed to tell Michigan citizens and elected officials that she was advocating for the repeal of the state’s ban on human cloning. Michigan Catholic Conference immediately released a statement calling the rhetoric “irresponsible.”

In an effort to educate the statewide population, the Conference has detailed in the Detroit Free Press the particulars of adult and embryonic stem cell research, and how any research using embryonic stem cells inevitably entails cloning and killing human embryos.

Representative Ed Gaffney (R-Grosse Pointe Farms), chair of the House Health Policy Committee, has stated publicly he is interesting in conducting a committee hearing to receive input from those on both sides of the issue. More information on research using adult and embryonic stem cells is available in the Conference’s February 2005 Focus essay.

House Education Committee Addresses Mandated High School Curriculum

Michigan public high school students beginning in fall 2006 may be expected to complete certain courses mandated by the state under legislation currently before the House Education Committee.

Representative Brian Palmer (R-Romeo) has introduced legislation that would mandate high school students receive 16 total credits in the areas of math (4), English (4), science (3), social science (3), and one credit each in physical education and the arts. Currently, graduating seniors are only required to have received credits in a civics course.

The legislation is a by-product of recommendations made to the State Board of Education by Superintendent Mike Flanagan, which were approved in December 2005.

The original recommendations included 18 credits, which included two additional credits in a foreign language course, but was eradicated from the legislation due to a lack of interest.

House Bill 5606 also includes language that would allow students to prepare for a vocational career, permitting an individual to exempt certain courses in lieu of classes that would lead to an education in a specified vocation.

The Senate Education Committee, chaired by Senator Wayne Kuipers (R-Holland), is conducting hearings across the state on proposed curriculum changes while the House Education Committee plans additional hearings in Lansing.

Governor Releases 2006–07 Executive Budget Recommendations

The governor’s budget director this week announced to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees a spending plan for the 2006–07 fiscal year that begins October 1. The $42.6 billion budget allocates spending to all state departments, as well as public K-12 education, community colleges and state universities. This year’s executive budget recommendation is $1.4 billion, or 3.3 percent, higher than last year’s budget proposal.

Of particular concern to the Michigan Catholic Conference is the proposal to, for the fourth consecutive year, cut the Michigan Tuition Grant Program. These state dollars are allocated to students who attend one of the state’s independent universities, which in previous budget years have been funded to the tune of some $61 million.

An elimination of these funds would prove a disservice to low-income Michigan residents who attend one of the state’s private Catholic schools.

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees, as well as their respective departmental subcommittees, will in the coming months examine the executive budget proposal and put forth their budget perspectives. Differences are typically ironed out before the legislature adjourns for the summer recess.

The state’s Department of Community Health budget, which allocates funding for the state’s social service programs, rang in at some $11.3 billion, up 9.1 percent from the current year. This budget is the state’s largest aside from the K-12 School Aid budget.

Click here to read the governor’s Executive Budget Proposal for the 2006–07 fiscal year.