At the beginning of the week, Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) asked you to email your State Senator and urge his or her support of Senate Bill 29. Through the nearly 1,300 messages sent to lawmakers, your voices were heard. On Wednesday, the Michigan Senate passed the measure, appropriating some $87 million in federal funding to assist Catholic and other nonpublic schools in the state with COVID-related costs. While the bill had previously passed the House of Representatives last week, it was returned after the Senate vote so that members could approve the Senate's changes, including the addition of $8 million to provide for breakfast and lunch reimbursements for low-income students. House lawmakers agreed to the amended legislation through a concurrence vote on Wednesday afternoon, sending it to the governor for her final consideration. MCC expressed its gratitude through a statement and shared the organization's hope that the governor would sign the bill into law quickly:
"Catholic and other nonpublic schools in the state quickly adjusted to the pandemic to provide safe in-person learning, yet the virus left in its path a greater need for PPE, enhanced ventilation, and other health and safety protections in schools. On behalf of hundreds of schools and over 100,000 Michigan children enrolled in nonpublic schools across the state, Michigan Catholic Conference is grateful to the Senate for passing federal emergency assistance for nonpublic schools."
If signed into law, the $87 million already approved by Congress and distributed through SB 29 would help nonpublic schools with the costs of Personal Protection Equipment, learning recovery programs, improvement of ventilation systems, professional development and training to mitigate the spread of a virus, and supplies to sanitize and disinfect classroom settings, among others. MCC continues to advocate for the governor to sign SB 29 into law for the safety of Michigan students.
The House Families, Children, and Seniors Committee considered House Bills 4071-4072 this week, which seek to provide enhanced protections for vulnerable children and to increase penalties for those who commit abuse against such children. Under the bills, the term "vulnerable child" refers to an individual under the age of eighteen with a developmental disability, mental illness, or physical disability. The committee unanimously voted to send the legislation to the House Judiciary Committee for further debate. MCC supports the measures and appreciates Representatives Bronna Kahle (R-Adrian) and Julie Calley (R-Portland) for their leadership on this issue.
Each year, the State of Michigan makes budget determinations for its people, just as a family makes decisions for the good of its members. If done well, the budget can act as a document of love and of care, recognizing all Michiganders have value and carefully considering the needs of the marginalized. The Word from Lansing column for March provides thoughts about the 2021-2022 state budget process and the priorities MCC believes should be included in the final version.
"We welcome House passage of the American Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which would help many hardworking immigrants reach their God-given potential, not only for their benefit but for that of the entire country. Inspired by the life of Christ, the Catholic Church remains committed to ensuring that all persons within our society are given the opportunity to flourish, especially those so often relegated to the margins. For that reason, we call on the Senate to take up and pass these measures swiftly, and we once again call on legislators from both chambers of Congress to work together to enact broader, vitally needed reforms to address our broken immigration system. We pledge to work with Congress and the Administration on this effort, which we believe is an urgent issue to uphold life and human dignity."
The American Dream and Promise Act passed by a 228 to 197 vote. Among the Michigan Congressional delegation, eight members voted yes, including Representatives Debbie Dingell (D-12th District), Dan Kildee (D-5th District), Brenda Lawrence (D-14th District), Andy Levin (D-9th District), Elissa Slotkin (D-8th District), Haley Stevens (D-11th District), Rashida Tlaib (D-13th District), and Fred Upton (R-6th District). The Farm Workforce Modernization Act passed the House by a 247 to 174 vote. Nine members of the Michigan Congressional delegation voted to continue the bill forward, including Representatives Debbie Dingell, Dan Kildee, Brenda Lawrence, Andy Levin, Peter Meijer (R-3rd District), Elissa Slotkin, Haley Stevens, Rashida Tlaib, and Fred Upton.
Over the past several weeks, MCC has shared information about a piece of legislation that is being debated at the federal level, the Equality Act. The measure, which has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives, is deceptively named and would actually discriminate against people and organizations of faith. A vote is expected very soon in the Senate. To learn more about the challenges created by the legislation and to find out how you can advocate against its passage, tune into a one-hour webinar on Monday, March 22 at 8 pm EDT: bit.ly/3eQDhEH. The webinar will be conducted by the Archdioceses of Los Angeles and New York, the Dioceses of Arlington and Green Bay, and the Catholic Conferences of Colorado and Virginia.