Lansing Update: What Was Left Unfinished as Legislature Ends Session

In this update:

Organ Donation Access Bill Approved, But Other MCC Priorities Left Behind by Lawmakers

The state Legislature ended the 2021–2022 session this week leaving a few outstanding Michigan Catholic Conference-supported priorities on the table, although an MCC-supported bill to ensure people with disabilities are not unjustly denied organ transplants did make its way out of the Legislature.

MCC had previously offered its support of House Bill 4762, which prohibits the refusal to do an organ transplant on a person with a disability solely based on the person’s disability. The bill—sponsored by Rep. Bronna Kahle (R-Adrian)—would also prohibit refusal to do a referral or evaluation, or placing a person on a waiting list for an organ donation, for the same reason.

That bill cleared the Senate this week during the final day of voting and is on its way to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for her consideration. Along with a separate bill MCC supported earlier this session to allow for HIV-positive individuals to receive organ donations from other HIV-positive people, House Bill 4762 ensures all people who need access to organ donations are treated with the dignity they deserve.

Unfortunately, the Legislature did not take up other important MCC-backed measures before it concluded its final substantive days of session, despite a concerted effort from MCC staff to urge legislative leadership to consider the bills before they expire at the end of this session.

Those unfinished measures MCC pushed for included expanding the amount of the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to help low-income working families, as well as a package of bills intended to prevent sexual abuse of children, particularly in medical settings. Another set of bills to increase penalties for abuse of vulnerable children did not make it out of the Legislature before lawmakers wrapped up their business.

MCC expects to continue pursuit of these legislative priorities as well as others once the new legislative session begins in January. With this legislative session ending, all bills introduced this session will expire, meaning these measures that died in the lame duck session will have to be re-introduced in the next session and begin the process anew.

Parish Files Suit to Ensure Catholic Churches, Schools Can Operate According to Faith

A Michigan Catholic parish is going to federal court to ensure Catholic churches and schools across the state can continue to operate freely and publicly in accordance with the teachings of the Church.

St. Joseph Catholic Church in St. Johns has filed suit against the Attorney General of Michigan and the state Civil Rights Commission, which comes in response to the Michigan Supreme Court earlier this year ruling in favor of the commission in its decision to redefine “sex” as including sexual orientation and gender identity when it comes to what is meant by sexual discrimination.

St. Joseph Catholic Church in St. Johns

MCC had previously filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case arguing the commission’s move to redefine the definition of sex in the state’s civil rights law usurps the Legislature’s role in the democratic process, presents constitutional problems for people of faith, and places in jeopardy religious persons and entities who wish to serve others in the public square.

The concern with the Supreme Court ruling is that it contains no exemption for religious entities like St. Joseph, according to Becket Law, the national legal nonprofit that is representing the parish in the federal suit. The lack of a religious exemption threatens the parish’s ability to hire staff members who hold to the Catholic faith and its teachings, particularly that marriage is a permanent lifelong union between one man and one woman and the recognition of biological differences between men and women.

The lawsuit filed by Becket highlighted various scenarios where the new interpretation of the state civil rights law could undermine St. Joseph’s constitutional right to religious liberty as enshrined in the First Amendment, according to a press release issued by the Diocese of Lansing announcing the suit.

For example, it notes that St. Joseph may be held liable for sex discrimination if biologically male students desire to use the female locker room or play on a female sports team, or if a biological male attendee at Mass wants to use the female restroom. The same could be true if someone would want to host a same-sex wedding at St. Joseph or have a wedding reception at the nearby Knights of Columbus Hall.

Becket Law previously represented the Lansing-based St. Vincent Catholic Charities in a case that resulted in a favorable settlement with the state that allowed the agency to continue operating in accordance with the Catholic faith.

Lansing Bishop Earl Boyea issued a statement backing St. Joseph and its legal case, saying that “I therefore fully support the parish community of Saint Joseph in seeking this important legal ruling to ensure that they—and all Catholic schools and institutions in Michigan—remain protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution in order to continue their God-given mission into the next century and beyond.”