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Non-budgetary provisions tacked to Michigan budget deal

The budget compromise announced by Gov. Rick Snyder, House Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville contains at least one provision that the governor’s legal counsel has said is unconstitutional and two controversial provisions that have nothing to do with the budget but are part of the conservative social agenda.

During a Thursday press conference announcing the budget agreement reached by the Republican leadership, Bolger said that a controversial line item to institute reporting provisions for stem cell research done in the state would remain in the budget.

Michael Gadola, legal counsel for Snyder, wrote a letter May 18 to Richardville and Bolger informing them that this provision would violate the state constitution. When voters approved a referendum legalizing stem cell research, they included an exclusive set of “enumerated limitations.” The reporting requirement demanded by this new provision, Gadola said, “violates the express language of the constitution and is unenforceable.”

Nonetheless, that provision remains in the budget bills that will be sent to the governor’s desk for his signature. In spite of having the letter from his own legal counsel, Snyder was coy on whether or not he would use his line item veto to strike those provisions.

“We’ll just have to wait until they have passed the budget and what comes before us,” Snyder said when asked whether he would do so.

One other provision that Gadola said was unconstitutional in his letter, dubbed the Agema amendment, would have fined state universities five percent of their budget appropriations if they continued to offer benefits to unrelated, unmarried live-in partners of university employees. That language has now been changed so it merely expresses the opinion of the legislature that offering such benefits violates the constitution but no longer contains any penalties.

In addition to those two provisions, the Senate higher education bill includes a religious conscience clause requiring state universities with accredited counseling programs to “report” on actions to protect counseling students from having to do something which might interfere with the “sincerely held religious beliefs” of the student.

The close, section 472, was described by a Senate Fiscal Agency document as follows:

Religious Beliefs. Requires report from each university on efforts to accommodate the sincerely held religious beliefs of students enrolled in accredited counseling degree programs. (Sec. 472)

That move comes in response to the case of Julea Ward.

Ward was a graduate student in the Eastern Michigan University counseling program, but she was expelled from the program when she declined to counsel a gay student. In refusing to counsel the student she said approving of homosexuality would violate her sincerely held religious beliefs that the Bible condemned homosexuality.

The school, however, held a hearing and removed her from the grad program for violating the school’s adherence to a national standard of ethics in the field of counseling. That ethical standard requires counselors to put their own views to the side to counsel people with whom they may disagree. The school panel also found unanimously that she violated the non-discrimination policy. She filed suit in federal court, but lost in the District level and is currently appealing to the Sixth Circuit Court.

Ward’s case has become a cause celebre for the religious right, especially for Gary Glenn and the American Family Association of Michigan.

Emily Dievendorf, policy director for Equality Michigan, slammed the counseling provision.

“Our public universities have a responsibility to train competent counselors that are capable of serving the needs of all clients. It’s crucial that students seeking services at counseling facilities are treated with respect in times of need. Professional ethics rules bar counselors from exhibiting intolerance or discrimination. Our institutions of higher learning must comply with such standards.”

“Fair-minded constituents won’t stand for this. They understand that refusing mental health services to individuals based on religious belief is both absurd and unprofessional. This amendment is yet another example of Republican extremists pushing a blatant social agenda to harm gay and transgender students. It has no place in our law and no place in our highly respected institutions of higher learning.”

Bolger told Michigan Messenger the provision was about the “constitutional rights” of students.

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