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Michigan House votes to penalize colleges that offer partner benefits

The Michigan House approved an amendment to the education budget on Thursday night that will penalize state universities and colleges 5 percent for offering domestic partner benefits for same-sex or unmarried partners.

Shortly after 8 p.m. Thursday night, State Rep. Dave Agema (R-Greenville) posted the following status update to his Facebook page announcing the amendment:

I had an amendment put into the education budget that takes 5% away from colleges that give same sex/unmarried benefits and places up to $60 million of that into the MPSRS K-12 budget if colleges do not stop skirting the law and the will of the people. Colleges can’t say they are short of money when they skirt the law and give such benefits. The Dems didn’t like this – it passed.

The approved budget cuts millions of dollars in state funds from the state’s K-12 system while shifting some of the funding from the school aid fund into community college funding. State universities and community college were cut 15 percent in the Senate version of the funding, but in the House funding proposal, those entities are cut by 22 percent unless they hold tuition increases to no higher than 7.1 percent.

Both bills now head into a conference committee where they will be combined into a final bill, which will then face up and down votes in both chambers. If approved, it would head to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk.

Agema has introduced the same amendment measure for years without much success. But with the public battle between the state civil service commission and Republican lawmakers over that MCSC January decision to extend partner benefits to unrelated adults living in the same home as state employees, the amendment is likely a head nod to anti-gay activists.

The GOP majority in the House fell short of the needed 2/3 majority to over ride the benefits allowing the proposal to become law. That happened over the protests of Gov. Rick Snyder and the GOP dominated Senate, which easily mustered the 2/3 majority to approve the resolution rescinding the MCSC decision.

The move by the House to put the penalty in the education budget raised the ire of advocates for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community which has fought hard to attain and protect partner benefits are colleges and universities in the state.

“Representative Agema has used creative accounting to force Michigan’s colleges and universities to deny their employees’ families access to good health. Our institutions of higher learning could now suffer a five percent penalty for operating in a responsible and forward thinking way toward the very individuals that work hard to make our students successful and prepared for the world economy,” said Emily Dievendorf, director of policy for Equality Michigan. “Budgeting taxpayer dollars is not a game for our our elected leaders to play but an opportunity for each legislator to demonstrate their values and commitment to the well being of their constituency. Rep. Agema’s amendment is a thinly veiled expression of personal ideology and not a reflection of what is best for the families he represents. This is exactly why no Michigander should lose interest when their legislator starts talking dollars. We are reminded today that budget negotiations can result in less food on the table and basic and essential rights being stripped away.”

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