Lansing Update: May 22, 2009

In this issue of Lansing Update:

  1. Legislation Seeking to Expand Health Care Coverage in Michigan Introduced
  2. Committee Likely to Vote on Juvenile Life Without Parole Bills Next Week
  3. Campaign for Justice Holds 2nd Annual Public Defense Conference

Legislation Seeking to Expand Health Care Coverage in Michigan Introduced

Approximately 1.2 million Michigan residents are without health care, and in the past two weeks legislation has been introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate that seeks to reduce that number by a wide margin.

Senator Tom George (R-Kalamazoo), chair of the Senate Health Policy Committee, has introduced a package of bills, called the MI-Health Act, which would cover at least half of those 1.2 million uninsured by creating two new programs: MI-Access and MI-Coverage. In the House, legislation led by Representative Marc Corriveau (D-Northville) calls for an expansion of the state’s MI-Child program so that every child in Michigan has health care coverage.

According to Sen. George’s MI-Access program, individuals with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level that do not qualify for Medicaid would receive insurance coverage. MI-Coverage would provide insurance access to individuals at 200 to 300 percent of the federal poverty level from an assessment on insurers. In order to pay for the insurance, Sen. George’s legislation would increase assessments on all health insurers, create new assessments on Blue Cross Blue Shield, and increase fees on hospitals. In addition, all insurance companies in the state would participate in a pool to help insure more costly claims, thereby relaxing the Blues’ role as insurer of last resort.

Under the House Democrat proposal, insurers would be banned from increasing rates if a person got sick, would require coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, and would prohibit insurers from covering only the healthiest people. In essence, Blue Cross Blue Shield would no longer be the only insurer of last resort in Michigan. The proposal would also create a Michigan Catastrophic Protection Plan that all insurers would pay into based on the percentage of the market they cover. The pool would cover claims in excess of $25,000.

Michigan Catholic Conference and other organizations advocating for health care for all have expressed interest in components of each of the plans. It is likely that both chambers’ Health Policy committees will discuss the bills in detail before any voting takes place.

Committee Likely to Vote on Juvenile Life Without Parole Bills Next Week

The House Judiciary Committee [Link no longer available —Ed.] next week is scheduled to take a vote on legislation that would amend the laws by which juveniles are sentenced in Michigan. Currently, Michigan is one of few states in the nation that sentences juveniles to life in prison without the opportunity for parole.

Michigan Catholic Conference has urged changes to current sentencing laws so that juveniles who were and are sentenced to life at least have the opportunity for parole at a later point. MCC has cited the opportunity for redemption and the maturity level of the offender at the time of the crime as reasons why the law should be changed.

The House Judiciary Committee hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, May 26 at 9:00 a.m. in Room 352 of the State Capitol.

Campaign for Justice Holds 2nd Annual Public Defense Conference

This week the Campaign for Justice held its 2nd annual Public Defense Conference in Lansing, which brought together legislators, public defenders, and advocacy groups working to amend the manner by which indigent defense is provided in Michigan.

Michigan Catholic Conference was a co-sponsor of the event, and in the afternoon moderated a breakout session that discussed faith-based approaches to social and restorative justice. The keynote speaker for the day was Norman Lefstein, Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus at Indiana University School of Law. A legislative update was provided by Laura Sager, campaign director for the Campaign for Justice, who indicated that bipartisan support for changes to indigent defense is building in the legislature.

The Campaign for Justice is a broad coalition of faith-based, judicial and legal organizations advocating for a statewide indigent defense office in the state that effectively meets national standards for public defense. Michigan currently delegates its constitutional obligation to provide indigent defense to each of Michigan’s 83 counties, and has been accused nationally of having one of the worst systems of public defense in the country.

More information about the campaign and public defense in Michigan can by found in the Conference’s May Focus publication: Defending the Poor.