Lansing Update: June 26, 2009

In this issue of Lansing Update:

  1. Legislature Adjourns for July 4th Holiday as Budget Bills Head to Conference
  2. Conscience Prohibition, Contraceptive Mandate Bills Introduced
  3. Package of Bills to Reform Failing Schools Moves to Senate

Legislature Adjourns for July 4th Holiday as Budget Bills Head to Conference

A Senate-approved $200 million general fund cut to the Department of Human Services, the fate of a controversial new Michigan State Police headquarters, and the elimination of a popular state tuition program all await final consideration as lawmakers this week adjourned for its July 4th holiday.

When they return, members of the Senate and House of Representatives will work in conference committee to eliminate a $1.7 billion deficit for the 2009–2010 fiscal year—as each chamber has passed differing versions of departmental budgets.

The Republican-led Senate and the Democrat-controlled House have opposing philosophies on how the budget deficit should be addressed; Senate Republicans have passed some $1.4 billion in departmental cuts while the House’s version of the budget incorporates significantly fewer cuts. Cuts made by the Senate include the elimination of the Michigan Promise Scholarship [Link no longer available —Ed.], which distributes up to $4,000 in grants to college-bound high school students who fare well on state testing. Citing a lack of state revenue, the Senate also made substantial cuts to other tuition programs, including the means-based Tuition Grant program [Link no longer available —Ed.], which the Catholic Conference has strongly supported.

Legislative leaders announced this week that they and representatives from the governor’s office will meet over the summer break to set spending targets for each department’s budget, and also announced intentions to finalize next year’s budget one month prior to the constitutionally mandated date of October 1.

Conscience Prohibition, Contraceptive Mandate Bills Introduced

Legislation that would specifically prohibit pharmacists from exercising their conscience rights was introduced in both the Senate and House this week, as were measures to mandate employers who provide their employees with prescription drug benefits to include contraception.

House Bill 5164, sponsored by Representative Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield) has been referred to the chamber’s Judiciary Committee, while Senate Bill 667, sponsored by Senator Deb Cherry (D-Burton), has been referred to the Senate Health Policy Committee. Both bills would prohibit an employer from exercising his or her right to conscience in the delivery of pharmaceutical services. Legislation mandating insurance coverage for contraception, House Bill 5157, sponsored by Representative Sarah Roberts (D-St. Claire Shores), and Senate Bill 658, sponsored by Senator Martha Scott (D-Highland Park), have been referred to the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Economic Development and Regulatory Reform Committee, respectively.

Similar legislation has been repeatedly introduced in previous legislative sessions, with no success. Michigan Catholic Conference has argued in favor of religious freedom and the right to conscience on both legislative matters.

Package of Bills to Reform Failing Schools Moves to Senate

The House of Representatives this week passed a three-bill package that would appoint a “school reform officer” if a school is determined by the state to be failing. Michigan Catholic Conference has supported the bills due to the legislation’s ability to provide parents with additional choice in how their children are educated.

The package of bills, spearheaded by the chairman of the House Education Committee Representative Tim Melton (D-Auburn Hills), and Representative Bert Johnson (D-Highland Park), won enough Democratic support after language was included that permitted certain conditions previously banned from collective bargaining: setting the first day of school, leaves of absence for staff teaching at charter schools, and non-instructive third party services.

According to the legislation, the state reform officer would be appointed if a school failed to meet accreditation standards and federal yearly progress for four consecutive years. House Bills 4787–4789 have yet to be referred to a specific Senate committee.