Lansing Update: September 30, 2011

In This Week’s Lansing Update:

  1. Governor Snyder Expected to Sign Partial-Birth Abortion Ban
  2. Catholic Conference Testifies in Support of Education Reform Legislation

Governor Snyder Expected to Sign Partial-Birth Abortion Ban

After a fifteen year struggle that has included overwhelming legislative victories, disappointing vetoes, political obstacles, a petition drive and legal challenges, the State of Michigan will soon enact without threat of veto or court challenge a ban on partial-birth abortion.

This week both the Michigan Senate and the Michigan House of Representatives passed overwhelmingly legislation that would ban the procedure in Michigan to ensure that any person who conducts such a heinous procedure can be prosecuted under Michigan law rather than waiting for federal law enforcement to take action. Senate Bill 160, which has been presented to Governor Snyder, passed the Senate 29-9 and the House 75-34. The bill mirrors the federal ban that was found constitutional in 2007. A companion bill, House Bill 4110, which pronounces sentencing guidelines, passed with the same number of votes. Michigan Catholic Conference has applauded the passage of the bill, and Governor Snyder has indicated, through Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley, that the bills will be signed into law.

The battle to enact and sustain such legislation began in 1996 when Michigan became the first state in the union to pass a ban on partial-birth abortion. After the bill was signed into law by Governor John Engler, however, the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law, which was later found unconstitutional in July 1997. Two years later Governor Engler signed a similar ban, the “Infant Protection Act,” which was enjoined to a Nebraska partial-birth abortion ban by federal judge Arthur Tarnow, who deemed the Michigan bill unconstitutional along with the Nebraska act. Then-Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm failed to appeal the decision, despite heavy encouragement to do so by the Michigan Catholic Conference.

Michigan attempted on a third occasion to ban partial birth abortion in 2003 when the Legislature overwhelmingly passed the “Legal Birth Definition Act,” which declared birth to be at the point where any portion of the child is vaginally delivered outside of the mother’s body. Seeking to elevate the Church’s support for the legislation, the Conference placed in the seven largest daily newspapers in the state a full-page advertisement that stated “We’re All in this Together,” urging the governor to sign the bill. On October 10, Governor Granholm vetoed the legislation. Within months, Michigan Catholic Conference and Right to Life of Michigan, through the state constitution’s citizen’s initiative process, collected and submitted to the Legislature a sufficient number of signatures to put the bill back before the Legislature, which again passed the bill. Citizen’s initiative legislation does not require the governor’s signature for a bill to become law. Planned Parenthood immediately filed suit and U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood later found the law unconstitutional, citing an “undue burden.” Attorney General Mike Cox appealed the decision to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which in June 2007 ruled the Legal Birth Definition Act unconstitutional.

On a fourth occasion, in 2008, the Legislature passed but Governor Granholm vetoed legislation that closely mirrored the federal ban that was found constitutional in 2007. The veto was not appealed. Michigan Catholic Conference cited Governor Granholm’s “continued indifference toward human life.”

Senate Bill 160 will be signed into law next week either by Lt. Gov. Calley or Governor Snyder, who is currently out of the country.

Catholic Conference Testifies in Support of Education Reform Legislation

Citing the Conference’s advocacy position that parents are the primary educators of their child, and that enhanced choice in education will benefit families and their ability to choose the best educational setting for their child, Michigan Catholic Conference this week testified in support of legislation that would expand the number of charter schools in the state, streamline dual enrollment and shared time policies, and expand the state’s schools of choice program.

In a statement released following the hearing, Michigan Catholic Conference Vice President for Public Policy and Advocacy Tom Hickson stated “The legislation before the committee today would provide parents with greater opportunities to decide where and by whom their children are educated. The result of these bills, if enacted, would be a more robust school system in Michigan that empowers parents and families. Michigan Catholic Conference applauds Senator Pavlov and especially Governor Snyder for proposing and advancing these necessary education reforms.”

In mid-September legislation was introduced in the State Senate that would reform education policies in the State of Michigan. Highlights of the “Parent Empowerment Education Reform Package” are:

Senate Bill 618, which lifts the cap on the number of university-authorized charter schools in the state, has passed the Senate Education Committee and awaits consideration from the full Senate. The remaining bills in the package will likely be sent to the full Senate next week or the week following.