Lansing Update: December 11, 2009

In this week’s Lansing Update:

  1. Workplace Smoking Ban to Go in Effect May 2010
  2. Church to Continue Pursuit of Health Care Reform Legislation
  3. Catholic Conference Urges Support for Statewide Public Defender System
  4. Education Reforms Fly as Legislature Focuses on Federal Race to the Top Funding

Workplace Smoking Ban to Go in Effect May 2010

After several years of debating the detrimental effects of smoking on the collective public health and the rights of individual business owners, the Michigan Legislature this week passed legislation that would ban smoking in workplaces such as bars and restaurants. The governor has indicated she will sign the bill into law, which will take effect May 2010.

Michigan will become the 38th state in the country to ban smoking in workplaces once the bill is enacted. The State Senate passed the legislation 24–13 as nine Republicans joined 15 Democrats in supporting the bill. The House of Representatives later in the day passed the measure 75–30, sending House Bill 4377 onto the governor’s office. Under the legislation, smoking will be banned in all public workplaces, except for the floors of the three casinos in Detroit, cigar bars and specialty tobacco shops.

Michigan Catholic Conference has supported a ban on public smoking on workplaces out of concern for the health and safety of children and families, and has been a member of Campaign for Smokefree Air, the leading advocacy coalition in support of the ban.

Church to Continue Pursuit of Health Care Reform Legislation

After the U.S. Senate voted this week to table an amendment that would ensure a prohibition on taxpayer funding of abortion, the chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference Pro-Life Committee urged changes [Link no longer available —Ed.] to the current Senate health care reform bill, despite the Church’s continued efforts to support overall reform.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, said: “Congress needs to separate facts and truth from political rhetoric on abortion funding. Even our opponents claim they do not support federal funding for elective abortions and they want current restrictions to apply. The way to settle this often misleading debate is simply, clearly and explicitly to apply Hyde restrictions to all the federal funds in the legislation. That is what the House did and what the final bill must do. The Senate should not approve this bill in its current form.”

The Nelson-Hatch-Casey Amendment, which mirrored the Stupak Amendment that passed the U.S. House of Representatives last month, fell several votes short of the 60 needed for passage. Language included in the current Senate health care reform bill would mandate that at least one public health care plan provide for abortion, and that low- and middle-income people who receive federal subsidies to buy insurance could enroll in health plans that cover abortion. Insurers would then be required to segregate their federal subsidies into separate accounts and use only the premium money and co-payments contributed by consumers to cover the procedure.

Pro-life leaders across the board have dismissed this proposal as nothing but an accounting scheme, and pointed out that any funds held by the U.S. government are public dollars. The long-standing Hyde Amendment, which the USCCB has sought to cement in health care reform legislation, prohibits any public funds from being used for abortions.

Staff of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops continue to work with members of Congress for health care reform legislation that respects the life and dignity of all, ensures an adequate level of affordability for the poor and low-income populations, and does not harm the immigrants present in this country. Once the Senate passes a health care reform bill, it will be reconciled with the already-passed House version and a conference report would then be debated by both chambers.

More information about the Church’s efforts to support health care reform can be found at

Catholic Conference Urges Support for Statewide Public Defender System

Michigan Catholic Conference has offered its support for legislation introduced this week that would create a statewide public defender system, which would replace the state’s current policy of pushing its constitutional mandate of providing indigent defense onto each of Michigan’s 83 counties.

“A just society must have a legal system where all have the opportunity to present their case regardless of financial means,” said MCC Associate for Public Policy Paul Stankewitz. “The Conference is supportive of efforts to bring consistency and quality to a constitutionally mandated service, and urges the Michigan Legislature to move toward adopting a statewide public defender system. The current county by county approach does not do adequate justice for the accused, and is fraught with economic and geographic inconsistencies.”

Michigan Catholic Conference is a coalition member of the Michigan Campaign for Justice, a broad-based group of organizations and individuals from across the political spectrum fighting for a fair and effective public defense system in Michigan. The campaign members believe that legislative reform is needed to improve cost effectiveness, protect the public’s safety and ensure one’s Constitutional right to counsel.

House Bill 5676, introduced on December 9, 2009, is co-sponsored by State Representatives Bob Constan (D-Dearborn Heights) and Justin Amash (R-Kentwood). The bill would establish a statewide public defense system to provide assistance of counsel to criminal defendants unable to secure their own counsel; ensure the system is free from political interference and conflicts of interest; provide that the defense is provided fairly and consistently throughout the state; and ensure that adequate state funding of the state public defense system is provided in a fiscally responsible manner.

The House Judiciary Committee [Link no longer available —Ed.] will address HB 5676 Monday, December 14 at the Wayne State University Student Center Ballroom in Detroit. MCC staff plans to testify in support of the bill.

Education Reforms Fly as Legislature Focuses on Federal Race to the Top Funding

The Legislature this week passed a number of “school reform” bills, which must now be resolved in a joint House-Senate conference committee, in an effort to make Michigan eligible for federal “Race To The Top” (RTTT) funds.

The $4.35 billion RTTT fund, created through the economic recovery law, is unique. No United States Department of Education secretary has ever had so much money for school improvement with so few conditions from Congress. Applications are due January 19, 2010. A successful application could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars for winning states.

The Michigan House and Senate have passed their own versions of legislation that would provide for alternative teacher certification, exemptions to the ban on starting school before Labor Day for failing schools, and establishing a definition of a “failing school” while setting forth the steps the State will take to address that situation.

The biggest change set forth by both chambers centers on the allowance of additional charter schools, as a means of providing alternatives to students in failing schools. The Michigan Catholic Conference supported both House and Senate versions on this matter, in that they provide more parental choice, while at the same time urging the Legislature to consider constitutional change which would allow for full choice, including faith-based schools.

Details regarding restrictions on charters, and the qualifications of charter operators, will be subjects for the conference committee.