Lansing Update: New Threat to Women, Children Emerges at Capitol

Bills Allowing for Exploitative Surrogacy Practices Get Hearing Hours After Introduction

Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) this week signaled its opposition to new legislation that would end Michigan’s protections against surrogacy contracts.

Surrogacy is the practice of arranging for a woman to carry a child for another person or people seeking to have children. The practice has been promoted by celebrities and used by people to obtain a child, as well as couples struggling with infertility.

While the Church recognizes the suffering of married couples experiencing infertility, there is great concern that surrogacy exploits women, makes children into commodities, and comes with risks to the life and health of both the surrogate mother and baby.

Surrogacy itself is currently legal in Michigan, however, the practice of arranging for a contract with a surrogate mother is not. New legislation introduced this week would not only legalize surrogacy contracts in Michigan, but the extensive bill package would also have major ramifications for the state’s family and parentage laws as well as estate law regarding succession and inheritance rights.

In addition to raising concerns over surrogacy and its detrimental impact on the dignity of women and children, MCC is also concerned about the legislative process by which these policies are being pursued.

The surrogacy legislation — House Bills 5207 through 5215 — was introduced at the end of House session on Tuesday. Less than 18 hours later, those same bills received their first House committee hearing Wednesday morning, before the public — and lawmakers — had time to fully review the bills.

While MCC was prepared to provide testimony on short notice at this week’s hearing, time did not permit doing so. MCC instead submitted a card indicating its opposition to the package and understands there will be an opportunity to testify at the next committee hearing, which is expected next week. MCC will be providing more information at that time about why it is opposed to this legislation.

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RHA Stalls Again This Week in the House

The Senate sent one final piece of the Reproductive Health Act (RHA) over to the House this week in a party-line vote, but otherwise, no further action was taken on the dangerous legislation this week.

Besides the approval of Senate Bill 593 by the majority party in the Senate on Thursday, there has been no movement in the House on the Senate RHA bills that were sent over last week, or the House versions of the RHA that have been sitting on the floor of that chamber for more than a month.

The legislation would do away with many common-sense limits placed on abortion intended to protect the health and welfare of Michigan women who seek out abortions.

This week did see the publication of another op-ed aimed against the RHA, this one authored by Christen Polo, who writes from her perspective as the former spokesperson for the No on Proposal 3 campaign. The op-ed can be read at The Detroit News.

The focus of the opposition campaign against the RHA remains in the House. Click or tap here to remind your state House member to oppose these bills to prevent them from coming up for a vote.

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Stories About Juvenile Fee Debt Underscores MCC Support of Reforms

Over the past few weeks, Lansing Update subscribers have been reading about a wide-ranging series of bills moving through the Legislature supported by MCC to improve the juvenile justice system in Michigan.

The legislation makes several changes to how the juvenile justice system works, in response to recommendations delivered to the Legislature from a state-convened task force that studied how to improve the system for juvenile offenders and their families.

To this point, Lansing Update readers may be asking themselves: Why do these changes matter? And why does MCC support them?

This week, an article published by Bridge Michigan helps answer those questions when it comes to a specific component of the reform package: Removing unnecessary fees levied on juvenile offenders.

The article tells the stories of Michigan families who have incurred thousands of dollars of debt tied to fees assessed on their children for encountering the juvenile court system, including one woman who owes $4,000 in fees related to her son, who was never actually arrested.

Here’s an excerpt from the article about another person’s story:

Ernest Bracanovic knows hardship. As a teenager, he moved to Michigan from the former Yugoslavia as a war refugee and quickly had two children.

Trouble followed him to Macomb County. His son couldn’t stay out of trouble, spending the bulk of his teenage years in juvenile detention centers for assault and illicit substances.

Ultimately, Bracanovic paid the price, amassing more than $100,000 in debt because Michigan law allows judges to impose fees on juvenile offenders and their parents for everything from drug tests and counseling to detention, which averages $100 to $300 per day.

Before Macomb County’s juvenile court stopped assessing and collecting on most juvenile court debts, Ernest Bracanovic owed more than $100,000 for the time his son spent in juvenile detention and other court-ordered treatments.

Advocates say the fees shackle parents like Bracanovic with crushing debt that amounts to double punishment. In all, he owed more than the cost of four years of in-state tuition at the University of Michigan.

Several bills in the MCC-supported package would remove the extraneous fees the article discusses. It should be noted the legislation does not impact restitution owed for crimes or funding for the state’s crime victims fund.

This week, a portion of the broader juvenile justice package moved out of a House committee to the House floor, after the Senate had previously approved them.

The House last week passed its portion of the package and sent the legislation to the Senate.

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Bill to Assist Agencies Serving Homeless Youth Clears House Floor

Legislation to assist agencies that temporarily care for homeless or runaway youth and supported by MCC passed the House on bipartisan votes this week.

The two-bill package would together require child caring institutions to get parental or guardian consent within 72 hours to continue providing services to homeless or runaway youth, up from the 24-hour requirement.

The goal of this change is to give agencies more time to acquire parental consent while providing youth with interim services. If parental consent is not obtained within that time, the agency typically must call Child Protective Services or the police.

House Bills 4085, sponsored by Rep. Lori Stone (D-Warren) and 4086, sponsored by Rep. John Roth (R-Interlochen), both passed the House on bipartisan votes and head to the Senate next for consideration.

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