Lansing Update: Here’s What MCC is Watching at the Capitol in 2024

Five Issues MCC Is Watching at the Capitol in 2024

The new year is here and that means the Michigan Legislature will soon resume session after closing out a busy year of lawmaking in 2023 earlier than usual to allow laws to take effect quicker. Now that 2024 has arrived, both the state House and Senate are scheduled to resume regular session meetings starting Wednesday, Jan. 10.

Because two House members vacated their seats in November for local offices, the House is now at an even 54-54 partisan split for the first three to four months of the year. Special elections to replace the departed members won’t be completed until the April 16 general election. The Senate still carries a 20-18 Democratic party advantage.

As lawmakers are set to return, here is a look at five important issues for MCC that could see movement this year in Lansing, and why Catholics should take notice.

Legislation Proposes to Legalize Assisted Suicide in Michigan

The State of Michigan has long prohibited the practice of physician assisted suicide to protect the sick and elderly from being legally provided drugs to end their lives. Just before lawmakers adjourned in 2023, however, bills were introduced in the Michigan Senate to end these protections and allow doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs to assist with a patient’s suicide.

Michigan Catholic Conference opposes the legislation because the proposed policy offers death rather than life-affirming pillars of the human condition: hope, love, and compassion, along with medically-advanced palliative care for those who are in pain, sick, suffering, or may have a terminal condition.

As the popes and bishops have taught since the beginning — and as the Church and Pope Francis continue to proclaim to this day — all human life has God-given dignity and each person’s life must be protected from his or her conception to their natural death. Physician assisted suicide is a direct attack on life, a policy that most impacts those who are in difficult stages of life, particularly the sick and dying, people with physical and mental disabilities, and people who are struggling with mental illness.

Despite what assisted suicide advocates may say, physician assisted suicide does not promote freedom and choices for people, because “a choice to take one’s life is a supreme contradiction of freedom, a choice to eliminate all choices,” as the U.S. bishops said in a statement against assisted suicide.

The proposed legislation in Michigan — Senate Bills 678 through 681 — would remove the state’s statutory protection against assisted suicide, which was affirmed by a vote of the people in 1998 when 71% voted to oppose a statewide proposal that would have permitted the practice.

The Senate bills have been assigned to the Senate Health Policy Committee, and it is not clear yet when or if a hearing may occur. MCC will be working to oppose this legislation and more details will be shared when available, including on how Catholic grassroots advocates like you can get involved.

Surrogacy Package Raises Concerns for Children’s Rights, Mothers’ Welfare

Last fall, a sweeping package of bills to allow compensated surrogacy contracts in Michigan moved at a breathtaking pace through the House along party-line votes.

Surrogacy is the practice by which a person or persons arrange for a child by having a separate surrogate mother carry the baby — often created through in vitro fertilization. While surrogacy itself is not illegal in Michigan, the pending legislation would overturn a state prohibition on contracts and compensation for surrogacy, which would commercialize a practice that currently tends to take place between close friends or family, also known as ‘altruistic surrogacy.’

MCC’s perspective toward the package begins with the rights of the child, as public policy should be written from the baseline that every child possesses God-given dignity regardless of his or her origin. The Catholic Church proclaims that a child is the manifest presence of the committed love in marriage between a mother and father, while surrogacy intentionally displaces the connection between the child and his or her birth mother.

Concerns with this legislation also include the increased risk of exploitation of surrogate mothers that would likely come with a new surrogacy industry in Michigan should the bills pass. Exploitative practices have already taken place in other U.S. states and countries where commercial surrogacy is lawful.

MCC opposes this legislation while still acknowledging the suffering of husbands and wives who experience infertility, and notes there is more work that can be done to promote adoption as an alternative path to parenthood.

The nine bills in the House package were introduced, passed out of a House committee, and approved by the full House in a matter of weeks last fall. Now the package is before the Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.

Driver’s Licenses for Undocumented Immigrants in Michigan

MCC will continue working with lawmakers and grassroots advocates to pass legislation to promote the dignity of undocumented immigrants by allowing the opportunity to acquire a driver’s license or state identification card.

The proposed policy to allow the undocumented to apply for a license or ID aligns with the Church’s principle of upholding the human dignity of immigrants. The proposal would ensure people can legally drive to work, school, church, the grocery store, medical appointments, and other daily activities that impact the health and well-being of children and families.

People who are undocumented for whatever reason still need driver’s licenses to drive legally across state roads. Those who are undocumented include people who are in the process of getting work visas and becoming a citizen, legal immigrants who haven’t received their verification documents because of bureaucratic delays, or individuals born in the U.S. who are missing a birth certificate or otherwise cannot prove they were born here.

In supporting this policy, MCC is not encouraging illegal immigration or open borders, nor is this policy about giving the undocumented the right to vote. The driver’s licenses made available to the undocumented in Michigan would be clearly marked as not for the purpose of federal identification.

Expanding access to driver’s licenses to the undocumented was one of the specific policies mentioned in a report issued by the Governor’s population council last month, which was focused on providing a strategy for increasing Michigan’s stagnant population.

Getting the driver’s license bills signed into law was also highlighted as one of MCC’s priorities for the 2023–2024 legislative session, as outlined in the latest Blueprint for the Common Good.

Legislation to enact the driver’s license policy has been introduced in both the House and the Senate and awaits committee consideration.

Protecting the Vulnerable from Predatory Payday Lending Practices

After years of working to block payday lending expansion in Michigan, MCC and other advocacy organizations are seeking to advance legislation to better protect those who are vulnerable and in low-income categories from predatory payday lending practices.

Legislation that would cap rates on payday loans at 36% was introduced last fall and proposed during a press conference that MCC attended. Payday loans are short-term loans structured with fees in such a way that the annual interest rate can amount to nearly 400%, so MCC is supporting this legislation in an effort to rein in the exorbitantly high fees on these loans that can trap vulnerable people in a cycle of debt.

The high interest rates and short-term window to repay the loans can lead to already low-income customers taking out new payday loans to repay old ones. Seventy percent of Michigan’s payday loan borrowers reborrow on the same day a previous loan is paid off, according to the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan.

MCC has long been involved in efforts to oppose payday lending expansion and work for better consumer protections, as payday loan stores primarily target and impact people who are already low income. The Conference with its coalition partners has also promoted low-interest loan opportunities that exist at community credit unions and other financial locations.

Matching rate cap bills were introduced in both the House and Senate and await committee hearings.

Legislation Would End Confidentiality in Closed Adoptions

MCC and the state’s Catholic Charities agencies are concerned that proposed legislation would end the confidentiality in a closed adoption process and could result in fewer mothers choosing adoption for their children.

House Bills 5148 and 5149 remove the option for birthparents who choose adoption to deny the release of their identifying information. MCC, after consulting with Catholic Charities agencies that facilitate adoptions, testified to lawmakers that some women have valid reasons to opt for a closed adoption.

For some birthparents, having an option for confidentiality is vital, and without it, they may otherwise not choose adoption. In some instances, confidentiality is needed because there is concern for the mother’s safety, especially if she is threatened by an abusive situation.

Many Catholic adoption agencies have found that for most cases in which an adoptee wants to know their parentage, arrangements are and can be made within the current law.

The legislation was first introduced in mid-October. In a two-day process in November, the legislation was given a hearing in a House committee, voted out of the committee, and then approved by the full House. The bills are now before the Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.

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Governor’s State of the State Speech, State Budget Process Also on Agenda for 2024

Later this month — Wednesday, Jan. 24 — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will deliver her sixth State of the State Address to the citizens of Michigan before a joint gathering of the state House and Senate. In addition to commenting on the current state of Michigan, the Governor will typically outline her policy priorities for the year.

In early February, the Governor will kick off the annual state budget process by releasing her official recommendations for spending for the 2024–2025 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. From there, lawmakers in the House and Senate craft their own spending recommendations before the Governor and two legislative chambers reconcile the differences and come up with a final product to be signed into law.

MCC believes the state budget is a moral statement, one that indicates the priorities the state places on those who are vulnerable and most in need. MCC also monitors state budget action for how nonpublic schools are treated by the state, and to the level of support that is given to other areas of state spending.

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