ACLU at the Michigan Capitol – April 21, 2016

In these weeks before the legislature breaks for summer campaign season, they will be focused on two goals: finalizing fiscal years 2017/2018 budget (a two year rolling budget) and getting publicity for a number of bills that they deem good for their political campaign in advance of the August primary.

The budget process alone provides rich political fodder for those seeking public support for their candidacy. Budget choices are often expressed in ideological terms on which the parties provide a platform for their candidates—such as defunding health care providers that offer abortion services (even though no public dollars can actually be used for abortion services) and adding budget dollars to promote the growth of public charter schools.

Here's how the budget process begins: The governor proposes his ideal state budget in the executive budget summary, unveiled this past February, which consists of a general fund budget (executive budget bill) and an education budget (the School Aid Fund).

Then, with eyes on the governor’s recommended levels of funding for each department, both the House and the Senate introduce their own versions of a state budget.  A rather complicated legislative process ensues throughout he spring months to reconcile the House and Senate budgets through meetings of the appropriation sub-committees for each department.  Ultimately, the reconciled House and Senate budgets are finalized through the powerful appropriation committees and sent to the Governor for his approval, or not.

This year, it is evident by the choices made in each budget that embattled Gov. Rick Snyder wants to be seen as resolving the Flint water crisis and the Detroit Public Schools financial crisis.  Also evident is that House and Senate leadership are going to support that focus and use the budget as an opportunity to leave the mess squarely on the Governor’s shoulders. There is little difference in their budgets for those items. It looks like the expectation that the budget will be finalized by the end of Jun, 2016, is on track.  In the meantime, there are a number of bills that will be publicly debated and voted upon not necessarily because they represent sound policy, but because they define political positions.

Take, for example, a bill that would allow Michigan health-care professionals to use telemedicine as a regular part of their health care services, SB 753, introduced by Senator MacGregor, R – Rockford.  Michigan is behind the curve in allowing this type of remote health care, which is increasingly viewed as important to the many rural and urban areas where access to doctors can be burdensome.  So this is a “good public policy bill,” right? Yep, or at least it was until lawmakers decided to use it for political gain by prohibiting telemedicine for abortion-related care. Under this measure, doctors providing medical abortion care remotely would be locked out of the arrangement, leaving thousands of women in Michigan without reasonable access to abortion care.

Yet another purely ideological bill that defies logic is SB 826, introduced by Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R- Canton.  This bill would prohibit a school from designing curriculum aligned with Common Core standards, echoing the far-right chant that Common Core standards are somehow subversive. This bill is meant to undermine Michigan’s Department of Education’s adoption of the Common Core standards framework.

On the other hand, we are pleased with a package of bills that would prohibit schools from expelling students based on truancy, SB 405-408, introduced by Senators Schuitmaker, R – Lawton and Emmons, R – Sheridan. This package responds to the crisis of the school-to-prison pipeline, which is widely believed to be the result of mandates over the past few decades requiring schools to expel students for certain behaviors, throwing thousands of students, and notably students of color in great numbers, into the streets and into the clutches of the criminal justice system.

As you begin to evaluate candidates and their positions on issues and votes they have taken, please check in with the ACLU of Michigan legislative department for our analysis of issues important to you. That devil, you know, is always lurking in the details.