Lansing Update: Signs of Hope Emerge as Opposition Efforts Continue Against Reproductive Health Act
Posted September 22, 2023
Reproductive Health Act Moves to House Floor, but Signs of Hope Emerge to Defeat It
A House committee this week approved several bills from the Reproductive Health Act (RHA), but Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) and pro-life coalition partners continued to ramp up opposition efforts against the package.
Thanks to those opposition efforts — including thousands of messages sent to lawmakers from grassroots advocates like you — there are now signs of hope that movement on the RHA is slowing down, despite the support from the pro-abortion legislative majority, the Governor, and Planned Parenthood.
The House Health Policy Committee, after taking testimony on the 11 House bills of the RHA for the first time last week, met this week and voted out only six of the bills. While the bills that moved forward still include appalling policies like repealing health and safety regulations on abortion clinics, the committee left behind bills that would have paved the way to require Medicaid funding — taxpayer dollars — for abortions.
Notably, one member of the majority party who sits on the committee — Rep. Karen Whitsett (D-Detroit) — voted against all six bills that moved to the House floor. The rest of the committee’s Democrats voted in favor of the RHA bills while the Republicans voted against them.
The Democrats have a 56-54 majority in the House, so if nothing were to change and Whitsett continues her opposition to the package, the Democrats would likely lose the ability to move the RHA, because 56 votes are the minimum needed to pass legislation. MCC commends Rep. Whitsett for her courage and conviction to stand against the RHA in supporting further conversation on common sense limitations on abortion.
Despite the positive developments, the legislation still moved forward. MCC and other pro-life organizations continue the push against the RHA.
MCC issued a press release following the committee vote encouraging members of the Legislature to turn to their conscience and vote against the RHA bills, which overturn widely-supported limitations on abortion and policies that require accountability and transparency for abortion facilities.
“The Reproductive Health Act would advance an unregulated abortion environment in Michigan, prioritizing the financial, political and business interests of the abortion industry over the health and safety of women in this state,” said Rebecca Mastee, policy advocate for the MCC, in the statement.
Mastee testified against the RHA bills in the House committee last week along with physicians and other representatives of a statewide coalition known as the Coalition to Protect a Woman’s Right to Know.
One of the physicians who testified — Dr. Catherine Stark, a board-certified OB-GYN who has practiced in Michigan for more than 25 years — put her name to an op-ed that ran in Bridge Magazine this week that opposed the RHA because of the threat it poses to women’s health and safety.
The Detroit News editorial board also wrote in opposition to the RHA this week, and MCC Vice President for Public Policy and Advocacy Tom Hickson spoke out against the legislation on the statewide radio program Michigan’s Big Show.
MCC issued an Action Alert to Catholic Advocacy Network (CAN) members like you to urge lawmakers to vote no on the RHA. In the span of a week, nearly 2,000 messages have been sent to lawmakers across the state. Thank you for your participation and dedication to speaking out for pro-life policies and for the dignity of vulnerable women in this state.
It is crucial that lawmakers hear from advocates like you about why the RHA must be rejected — especially now.
The six bills that passed out of committee — House Bills 4949, 4950, 4953, 4954, 4955 and 4956 — move to the House floor for further consideration.
MCC, MANS: Free Meals for All Students Should Include Nonpublic Schools
If the Legislature intends to ensure free school meals are available for all schoolchildren in Michigan, that should inherently include nonpublic school students, MCC and the statewide nonpublic school association told lawmakers this week.
MCC, along with the Michigan Association of Nonpublic Schools (MANS), testified that Senate Bill 500 has a “glaring problem” in its goal of making permanent a new state program that expands a free school meal program to more Michigan schoolchildren: It leaves out nonpublic school children.
The Legislature earlier this year appropriated funds in the state budget to cover free school meals for every public school student in Michigan, regardless of their means, if the school is participating in the federal breakfast and lunch program. However, nonpublic school students were not included in the expanded program.
There are 177 nonpublic schools that currently participate in free and reduced meal programs, and 55 of those nonpublic schools provide breakfast and lunch to qualifying students, said Brian Broderick, executive director of MANS, in his testimony before the Senate Education Committee this week.
“This legislation extends meal provision to all students at public schools regardless of their family income,” Broderick said. “It would not, however, do the same for children attending nonpublic schools even though their school participates in the meal programs.”
MCC policy advocate Paul Stankewitz noted that the bill as presented would create food access inequities between neighbors and even between children in the same household based on the school they attend.
“It would create inequity by providing a benefit to students attending a public high school but not younger brothers and sisters attending a nonpublic elementary school, children who live under the same roof,” Stankewitz told the committee. “Many nonpublic schools are K through 5 or K through 6, with children eventually attending their local public schools.”
Stankewitz also noted the Legislature has previously provided general fund dollars to nonpublic schools — which is permissible under the state constitution — for important matters like paying for the cost of complying with state-mandated health and safety regulations. He argued that including nonpublic schools in the free school meal program would be a similar course of action.
Following testimony from MCC and MANS, both a Republican and Democratic member on the Senate Education Committee expressed support for finding a way to include nonpublic schools in the free school meal program expansion.
Senate Bill 500, sponsored by Sen. Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia), was not voted on this week.
Plan to End Excessive Fees on Juvenile Offenders Advances in the House
Legislation to improve the juvenile justice system by ending extraneous fees on offenders and their families moved forward to the House floor.
MCC is supporting House Bills 4634 through 4637, which would remove most non-restitution fees and costs that have been assessed on juvenile offenders. The fees have been found to exacerbate the cycle of poverty and increase disparities experienced by juvenile offenders and their families. The legislation would maintain restitution payments as well as payments to the crime victims rights fund.
The bills prohibit courts from requiring juveniles or their families to reimburse the courts for any fine, fees, or costs related to the juvenile’s court case. Other parts of the package would remove the DNA assessment fee and waive late fee payment penalties for court costs, fines, and other fees that are not paid within 56 days.
These measures are part of a larger legislative initiative that seeks to implement recommendations from a state task force to improve the juvenile justice system.
Another portion of the task force implementation bills, House Bills 4638 through 4643, would replace the state’s Office of the Child Ombudsman with a new Office of the Child Advocate, which would take on the ombudsman job duties along with other responsibilities related to residential facilities and juvenile justice services. MCC supports those bills as well.
The bills all moved out of the House Criminal Justice Committee this week and await further consideration on the House floor.
Bill to Better Protect Vulnerable Seniors in Foster Care Settings Supported by MCC
MCC offered support this week for legislation that would improve care for patients in adult foster care facilities by strengthening accountability and transparency measures.
House Bill 4841, sponsored by Rep. Stephanie Young (D-Detroit), is inspired by the advocacy of Patricia Skrabis, whose now-deceased mother Theresa had been mistreated at an adult foster care facility in Michigan.
The bill would require enhanced training and qualifications for staff who work with residents in adult foster care settings, and improved accountability and oversight of the facilities would be required through state inspections.
Additionally, the bill would revise the complaint process and provide for annual satisfaction surveys for residents and staff, which would serve to help protect the vulnerable and seniors living in adult foster care settings.
MCC staff have worked with Ms. Skrabis in her efforts to bring the policies forward through legislation. MCC staff is encouraging continued stakeholder discussions on the bill to reach a solution that both helps seniors and ensures their safety while also making sure services are affordable to those in need.
The bill was not voted on this week during its hearing before the House Families, Children, and Seniors Committee.
House Provides Bipartisan Support for Safe Drinking Water for Schools, Daycares
Legislation to ensure safe drinking water is available in schools — including nonpublic schools — as well as in daycare centers was approved by the House in a bipartisan vote.
MCC has offered support for the legislation in the interest of promoting access to clean water and is grateful for the inclusion of nonpublic schools in the bills.
The legislation approved by the House this week would require schools to install filtered bottled water-filling stations and filtered faucets as part of a clean water drinking management plan the schools must submit to the state. Water outlets that are not filtered would need to be shut down. The legislation also stipulates the Legislature must cover the costs of the installation of water filtration systems.
The bills approved by the House include House Bill 4341, sponsored by Rep. Ranjeev Puri (D-Canton) and House Bill 4342, sponsored by Rep. Cynthia Neeley (D-Flint).
MCC also supported Senate versions of this legislation and testified in favor of the bills in a hearing earlier this year.