STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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Bills, bills and more bills, aka Lame Duck

Jennifer Guerra
Michigan Radio

Things are moving at lightening speed over in Lansing. I'm no lame duck expert, but this has got to be one of the busiest lame duck legislatures we've seen in a long time.

Sure, sure, we all know about the Right to Work bill, which Governor Rick Snyder just signed into law. But what else is happening in Lansing? Michigan Radio's Kate Wells has this handy dandy list of bills that are moving through the legislature as we speak.

Here’s a short list: - Blue Cross: The legislature has passed an overhaul of Blue Cross Blue Shield, the state’s largest insurer. Some 70% of Michiganders have a Blue Cross plan, and some senior advocates say the new policies don’t provide enough coverage for older adults. - Abortion: there’s a package of abortion bills pending that would make it dramatically tougher for a woman to get and pay for an abortion. Insurance companies could no longer cover abortions under their regular plans, unless the woman’s life is on the line. So women would have to buy additional abortion insurance ahead of time, just to cover the one procedure. - Religious exemptions: the legislature is considering language that would let doctors, nurses, and even employers opt of providing any medical care that doesn’t fit with their personal moral or religious beliefs – such as birth control or abortions.

Oh, but that's not all.

Drug testing for welfare recipients, an expansion of the statewide school district’s powers, and new handgun policies: the state would expand its concealed carry areas for those who are willing to get extra training, and it would transfer handgun licensing from the state to county sheriffs.

"Lame-duck damage."

That's how Melissa Smith refers to what's happening in Lansing right now. Smith is a senior policy analyst at the Michigan League for Public Policy, and in a recent blog post she takes on SB1386 which would "codify the current DHS policy implementing the 60-month lifetime limit on the Family Independence Program."

Smith says the bill conflicts with legislation passed last just last year that, "while tightening the exemptions to the 48-month time limit of the Family Independence Program, still preserved cash assistance for families caring for a disabled child or spouse."

Here's more from Smith:

This was not the intent of the Legislature when they clarified the 48-month time limit exemptions as families where a parent was taking care of a disabled child or spouse were specifically listed as an exempted group. The bill that just passed the Senate would make this policy law and would cause these parents to lose their only source of income. This could result in children having to be taken away from their parents and institutionalized if they can no longer be cared for at home, resulting in increased costs to the state. The Family Independence Program helps those that are most in need, yet this policy directly harms families that obviously are just that, when a recipient is unable to work because they must care for a child with Down Syndrome or a spouse with leukemia. Many disabilities are not short-term and subjecting these families to arbitrary time limits seems unconscionable.

The folks over at Michigan's Children, a statewide advocacy group, are also worried about this lame duck session and the impact it will have on kids and families. They fear the current divisive atmosphere will make it harder to compromise and legislate in the future. "This is particularly devastating since the new Legislature has many important policy decisions to make like passing a balanced budget and reforming the state’s education system – serious undertakings that need the best thoughts from both sides of the aisle."

For more on the education reform bills, check out Jake Neher's story on the push to expand Michigan's 'turnaround' school district. You can also see our coverage on a new K12 funding proposal that's being batted around in Lansing.

Jennifer is a reporter with Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and worked as a producer for WFUV in the Bronx.