Lansing Update: December 9, 2016

In This Update:

Michigan Legislature Passes Funding for "Heat and Eat" Policies

This week, the Michigan Legislature considered a bill to provide supplemental appropriations for the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 state budgets. Senate Bill 800, sponsored by Senator Dave Hildenbrand (R-Lowell), includes the necessary funding for "heat and eat" policies, which help low-income residents receive additional food assistance from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). By showing that they receive federal energy assistance (LIHEAP), instead of providing copies of monthly utility bills, residents can qualify for additional food assistance. This provision is especially valuable to those whose heating costs are bundled in with rent payments. The measure provides $6.8 million in state funding for heating assistance, allowing Michigan to draw down at least $140 million in federal food assistance. Families in need could receive as much as $79 more per month as a result for food assistance. Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) is especially thankful to Representative Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) for offering the critical amendment that provided for this necessary funding. MCC also appreciates the work of Appropriations Chairman Al Pscholka (R-Stevensville) and the bipartisan list of lawmakers who unanimously supported this measure in both chambers. Senate Bill 800 now continues to Governor Snyder.

Bills for Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation and Services Continue Forward

The Michigan Legislature considered several bills this week to address the needs of those who have been wrongfully imprisoned. Senate Bill 291, sponsored by Senator Steve Bieda (D-Warren), allows those who have been exonerated to receive $50,000 a year for every year that they were incarcerated. House Bill 5815, sponsored by Representative Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), allows these individuals to receive re-entry and housing services from the Department of Corrections upon their release. Finally, Senate Bill 860, sponsored by Senator David Robertson (D-Grand Blanc), would allow a taxpayer to deduct wrongful imprisonment compensation received from his or her taxable income. MCC supports all measures, which are a step in the right direction to help those that have been wrongfully imprisoned rebuild their lives. Senate Bill 291 has passed both the House and the Senate and will be sent to the governor for his signature. House Bill 5815 passed the House unanimously, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, and now continues to the Senate for its consideration. Senate Bill 860 passed the Senate unanimously and now continues to the House for its consideration.

Successor Judge Bill Headed to Governor's Desk

The Michigan Parole Board considers a number of factors in an eligible parole case for a prisoner sentenced to life in prison before making its decision. Some of these factors include the crime committed, the prisoner's cooperation with law enforcement, and the minimum time served. Parole is automatically denied if the sentencing judge in that prisoner's case, or the judge that replaces him or her, files written objections within 30 days of receiving a notice of the scheduled parole hearing. House Bill 5273, introduced by Representative Dave Pagel (R-Berrien Springs), will change the process slightly, only allowing the written objection of the original sentencing judge to automatically bar parole for an individual. Written objection from a successor judge may still be considered. Michigan Catholic Conference supported the measure, which passed both chambers with wide support after a Senate vote this week. The bill will continue shortly to Governor Snyder for his signature.

MCC Opposes Resolution to Halt Refugee Resettlement

This week, the House Local Government Committee heard testimony on House Concurrent Resolution 28, a measure requesting the federal government halt further refugee placements. After consulting with local Catholic Charities agencies who work with refugees, Michigan Catholic Conference opposed the resolution. Cooperation should continue to take place between the federal, state, and local governments related to refugee resettlement.According to these agencies, this cooperation and consultation is taking place, and as a result, HCR 28 is not needed. The committee approved the resolution, which was sponsored by Representative Mike McCready (R-Birmingham).

Senate Judiciary Committee Passes Vulnerable Adult Abuse Bill

House Bill 5422, introduced by Representative John Chirkun (D-Roseville), expands the definition of fourth degree vulnerable adult abuse. In the expanded definition, the crime would now include an intentional act by a caregiver or other individual that poses an unreasonable risk of harm or injury to the vulnerable adult. Currently, the crime and subsequent sentencing only apply if there is physical harm as a result of a reckless act of failure. Michigan Catholic Conference supports the bill, which was up in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, as it protects the safety of vulnerable adults. The measure will continue forward to the full Senate after passing the committee this week.

Human Trafficking Bills Receive Unanimous Approval in Senate Committee

This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approvedtwo bills to address the issue of "sex tourism."House Bills 5838 and 5839 prohibit and prescribe felony penalties for selling or offering to sell travel services for the purpose of engaging in prostitution or human trafficking. For example, traffickers often arrange for workers in the sex trade to be brought to high profile events, like Art Prize, the Detroit Auto Show, and major sporting events. The penalty for travel agencies or individuals who knowingly arrange or coordinate such travel would be a 5 year/$10,000 felony, or 10 year/$15,000 if the offense involved a minor. The two measures are sponsored by Representatives Tom Barrett (R-Potterville) and Jason Sheppard (R-Lambertville). MCC staff supported the bills, which now continue to the full Senate.

2015-2016 Legislature Will Adjourn After Next Week

One week remains in the 2015-2016 session before the 98thLegislature adjourns. Michigan Catholic Conference will continue to work on any remaining issues and update members with the resultsnext week. Early next year, MCC will also make a report available detailing all the legislation staff worked on over the two-year period, as well as the outcomes of those efforts. Stay tuned!