Lansing Update: September 11, 2009

In this week’s Lansing Update:

  1. $2.7 Billion Budget Deficit Remains as September 30 Deadline Looms
  2. MCC Board of Directors Statement on State of Michigan Budget
  3. MCC Board of Directors Says No to 2010 Constitutional Convention
  4. Legislation Prohibiting Conscience Rights for Pharmacies Passes Committee
  5. Follow us on Twitter @MiCatholicConf

$2.7 Billion Budget Deficit Remains as September 30 Deadline Looms

With Michigan’s constitutional requirement for the state’s budget to be balanced by September 30 less than three weeks away, legislative leaders and the administration have yet to compromise on a solution to the state’s $2.7 billion budget deficit.

To date, the Michigan Senate has passed a plan that balances the budget by using some $1.8 billion in federal stimulus dollars and slashing some $1.2 billion out of state government, while the governor this week proposed a plan that combines budget cuts, tax increases and the allocation of stimulus funding. The House of Representatives have yet to produce a balanced budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins October 1.

The plans presented by the State Senate and the administration would cause great harm to the state’s social safety net, which is dependent upon program funding in the Department of Community Health (DCH) and the Department of Human Services (DHS), MCC staff has maintained. On August 5 the Conference conducted a news conference [Link no longer available —Ed.] with some 27 statewide human service organizations at the State Capitol urging all elected officials to abandon a “shared pain” approach [Link no longer available —Ed.] to balancing the deficit. Yet the governor’s plan would slash some $150 million out of DCH and $100 million out of DHS, and the Senate-passed budget would nearly decimate Michigan’s safety net.

MCC staff has advocated protection of program funding that ensures the health and safety of Michigan’s destitute population, and has called for the legislature to maintain existing funding of the Family Independence Program grant, the state’s clothing allowance for poor children, and the recently enacted Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit.

If the budget deficit is not balanced by September 30, the state will be forced, as it was in 2007, to temporarily discontinue services and programs until revenues are secured.

Action Alert! [Link no longer available —Ed.]: Through the Catholic Legislative Advocacy Network, MCC staff is asking for Catholics across the state to contact their state legislators in opposition to the “shared pain” approach to balancing the state budget deficit. The Action Alert includes a background of this important issue and a form letter than can be altered by the sender. Please contact your legislator today and urge him or her to protect vital programs that assist Michigan’s poor and vulnerable.

MCC Board of Directors Statement on State of Michigan Budget

While legislative leaders seek to diminish further Michigan’s social safety net in an effort to balance the state’s $2.8 billion deficit, the Michigan Catholic Conference Board of Directors has approved a statement calling for solidarity with the state’s poorest citizens and urges legislators to enact a budget that protects essential needs:

“As deliberations take place to resolve Michigan’s nearly $3 billion deficit, the Michigan Catholic Conference Board of Directors calls upon state leaders to overcome divisiveness and to pursue a budget solution that guarantees preferential options for the most needy population.

Speaking on behalf of society’s most vulnerable citizens is a Catholic tradition. We advocate for legislation that protects and defends the dignity of the human person from conception until natural death. The homeless, those without health care, the unemployed, the sick and aged, and all vulnerable persons struggling to survive, are some of those who depend on state programs for their own personal health and safety. We call on Michigan’s elected officials to stand with them by enacting a budget that protects essential needs.

Michigan’s budget must have a moral foundation, one that manifests the priority the state places on providing basic human services through an equitable tax structure and a just distribution of resources. The MCC will continue to advocate this position on behalf of the vulnerable. We call on all those of good will, especially the Catholic community, to join us in working for the common good and economic justice for all.”

Michigan Catholic Conference’s Board of Directors is comprised of Michigan’s seven (arch) diocesan bishops, five laypersons, one priest and one religious sister.

MCC Board of Directors Says No to 2010 Constitutional Convention

Michigan Catholic Conference Board of Directors has approved a statement that does not support the call for a constitutional convention in 2010. The statement in its entirety is as follows:

Michigan’s current constitution is not a perfect document. Amendments are in order, especially in the area of state aid to non-public schools. The financial impact of a constitutional convention on the state budget, however, only presents additional threats to, and concerns for, the state’s social safety net. Michigan Catholic Conference does not support the call for a constitutional convention in 2010.

Michigan voters at the November 2010 general election ballot will decide whether or not the state will conduct a constitutional convention in 2011. Article 12, Section 3 of the 1963 Michigan Constitution calls for a vote of the people every 16 years to determine if delegates appointed from each House and Senate district should rewrite the state’s guiding document. Since the adoption of the 1963 state constitution, the question has twice been before voters and each time was defeated, in 1978 and in 1994.

Legislation Prohibiting Conscience Rights for Pharmacies Passes Committee

A package of bills that would mandate the distribution of emergency contraceptives, force employers to offer birth control, and prohibit pharmacies from exercising conscience rights moved out of the House Judiciary Committee this week. MCC staff indicated opposition to these measures before the committee, citing an attack on religious freedom generally and disdain for the Catholic approach to health care specifically.

House Bill 5155, sponsored by former MARAL Pro-Choice Michigan executive director Representative Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor), would require health facilities to distribute information to, and, upon request, provide emergency contraception to victims of sexual assault. Amendatory language was offered by MCC staff that would allow Catholic hospitals to remain consistent with Ethical and Religious Directive 36 [Link no longer available —Ed.] to protect a victim of assault, but the sponsor has yet to respond.

House Bill 5164, sponsored by Representative Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield), would prohibit a pharmacy from refusing to “dispense or transfer a prescription bases solely on his or her ethical, moral or religious beliefs.” The bill passed on to the full House of Representatives following the approval of an amendment that shifted the focus of the bill from pharmacists to pharmacies. Should the pharmacy only employ one individual who embraces that “ethical, moral or religious belief,” he or she would not be forced, under this statute, to refer the patient to a specific pharmacy that sells the prescription. MCC staff will soon be encouraging messages to be sent to legislators through the Catholic Legislative Advocacy Network urging opposition to this measure due to its discriminatory nature and disregard for religious freedom.

House Bills 5156 and 5157, sponsored respectively by Representatives Pam Byrnes (D-Chelsea) and Sarah Roberts (D-St. Claire Shores), would require that “health insurance policies and similar contracts that provide coverage for prescriptions include coverage for any prescribed drug or device approved for use as a contraceptive by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.” According to this bill, any organization that offers its employees prescription drug coverage, whether or not it agrees or disagrees with the use of contraception, must include birth control coverage.

Additional measures included in the package that passed out of committee are: require insurance coverage for Pap smear screenings (House Bills 5161 and 5162); require pregnancy resource centers to include certain informed consent procedures (House Bill 5158); and calls for “comprehensive” and “medically accurate” sex education to be taught to grade school children, while allowing the schools to maintain a focus on abstinence (House Bill 5163).

Follow us on Twitter @MiCatholicConf

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