The Word from Lansing: 2013–2014 Session in Review

One of the most beautiful aspects of Catholic Social Teaching, as we see from Pope Francis’s loving example, is a core desire to serve others. This desire means truly being with and supporting individuals throughout their lives. During the 2013–2014 legislative session, Michigan Catholic Conference staff worked on a number of policies that reflected the inherent dignity of the human person, in the hopes of better serving people in need around the state.

By standing against abortion and helping women choose life, the Catholic Conference served the unborn. MCC encouraged parishes in 2013 to participate in a petition drive prohibiting taxpayer funding of abortion. The measure passed and was approved into law, sending a strong pro-life message on behalf of Michigan citizens. Additionally, staff successfully worked to allocate budget funding to a program that provides women in crisis pregnancies the tools they need, such as parenting classes, adoption assistance, and necessary care items like diapers and formula, to choose alternatives to abortion. MCC also supported measures, which have now been enacted into law, to streamline the adoption process to bring together Michigan’s most vulnerable children with loving families.

Promoting health care and the physical well-being of others was also an area of success these past two years. Over 481,000 new individuals have become eligible for increased access to health care through Medicaid expansion, which passed the Legislature with MCC support and went into effect in April 2014. Between April and November, the Michigan Department of Community Health estimated that the program has resulted in 241,000 primary care and 74,000 preventative care visits. The 2013–2014 session also saw approval of legislation that provided assistance to human trafficking victims to address their medical and mental health concerns, as well as over twenty other bills related to the topic.

Other measures allowing for the establishment of minimum standards of indigent defense, the creation of a statewide student safety hotline, and educational tuition assistance, among others, passed with MCC support. Even during Lame Duck session, Catholic Conference staff was pleased to see concern for the poor included in the shaping of the road funding plan. Now, restoration of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for the working poor to the 2010 level will be tied to the ballot proposal that will go before voters in May.

Continued work remains, however, especially as many bills faltered before the end of session. For example, MCC worked tirelessly to draw attention to the need for religious liberty legislation through staff promotion, media pieces, and grassroots advocacy. At the final hours of legislative session, time ran out before religious freedom measures for individuals and child placement organizations of faith could be considered in the Senate. This year, MCC remains committed to working for these much needed protections, especially as they are vital for allowing faith-based individuals and institutions to continue their good service to others.

The MCC Board of Directors has approved the following nine issue priorities to guide staff during the 2015–2016 session: religious liberty, human life and dignity, education, children and families, health care, economic justice & regulatory policies, restorative justice, immigration, and select federal issues. While this list is not exhaustive, these priorities are a starting point for staff, who will work to examine and advance legislation in the State Legislature.

The Catholic Church teaches that government is charged with “protecting human rights and securing basic justice for all,” and it is the job of people of faith to remind government of that task when necessary (Economic Justice for All, 122). MCC staff, on behalf of the bishops, will ensure that the Catholic voice is heard in Lansing, both through staff advocacy and the facilitation of grassroots advocacy.

Inevitably, the two-year session that lies ahead will be filled with celebrations and disappointments that have strong implications for the residents of this state. As it begins, however, it is important that we roll up our sleeves and get ready to work to make sure the concerns of the poor, vulnerable, and marginalized are heard.