Photo: Bonnie Bucqueroux, Lansing Online News

Turmoil In Lansing

Anti-LGBT Laws Die In Lame Duck Session, But Legislators Pass Pro-Gun, Restrictions on Abortion Bills

By Jan Stevenson

LANSING -

At 4:30 a.m. Dec. 14 it was official - the Michigan legislature did not hold final votes on House Bills 5763 and 5764, which would have allowed adoption agencies to discriminate based on a moral or religious conviction, or on Senate Bill 975, which would have allowed healthcare professionals to similarly discriminate.

The lame duck session ended in the wee hours of the morning after legislators voted on a flurry of other bills, but they did not vote on the three bills that activists said specifically targeted LGBT people and families, thereby killing the bills for now. The all-night session capped a frenetic lame duck session that saw Michigan become the 24th state to pass so-called right-to-work legislation, a devastating blow to the labor movement in our state that has the richest labor history in the nation.

Emily Dievendorf, policy director at Equality Michigan, was at the capitol until the final gavel came down Friday morning. She credited the thousands of people who called and emailed their legislators and the governor to protest passage of the moral objection bills.

"I was proud to be there for that moment and today we celebrate with our supporters - along with all LGBT families across Michigan and our friends within partner organizations from Unity Michigan, labor, education, and other human rights movements," Dievendorf said in a written statement. "However, our allies were not so fortunate in defeating attacks on their communities this session. We join them in planning how to correct those injustices and we will no doubt continue to need their help, and the support of all Equality Michigan members, to keep these extremists in check."

"I think it's a positive thing that these discriminatory and harmful bills never came up for a vote," said Jay Kaplan, LGBT Project staff attorney at the Michigan ACLU. "Clearly the language of these bills would have permitted health care providers, including hospitals to refuse to provide medical services to LGBT patients, regardless of the potential for serious medical harm."

Barbara Murray, executive director of AIDS Partnership Michigan and chair of the HIV/AIDS Alliance in Michigan, a lobbying organization for HIV/AIDS issues, put this latest legislative attempt into historical perspective. "HAAM has fought moral objection/conscientious objector bills in the Michigan legislature over the last 12 years. None of us forgets the early years of the AIDS epidemic when patient's food trays were left in hospital hallways because staff would not enter the hospital room. It is a poor measure of society and humanity to pick and choose to whom you will deliver care," said Murray.

Other bills that received final approval and that are now on Gov. Snyder's desk awaiting his signature will restrict abortion, reinstate the financial manager legislation struck down by voters in the November election and ease gun laws.

Here are descriptions of the bills that the governor has on his desk this week:

* A phased-out elimination of the personal property tax

* A massive 45-page anti-abortion bill, that includes licensing of abortion facilities and allows for limits on insurance coverage for abortion services .

* The final bills needed to create a Regional Transportation Authority for southeast Michigan.

* An authority intended to improve streetlights in the city of Detroit.

* Legislation to assist Mike Ilitch in his plans for a new arena and entertainment district in downtown Detroit.

* Bills that make it tougher to recall state lawmakers.

* A requirement - already vetoed once by Snyder - that voters declare in writing they are U.S. citizens.

* A replacement emergency manager law, less than two months after voters rejected the former law, Public Act 4 of 2011.

* Privatization of a prison in Baldwin.

* Easing restrictions on where guns can be carried, including at schools and churches.

* Changes to the state's medical marijuana laws.

Pro-choice advocates reacted strongly to the legislation that would require women to purchase a special insurance rider on their health insurance to cover abortion services.

"The 'rape rider' - a law requiring women to buy an insurance rider for abortion care - is a ridiculous burden upon women who will have to anticipate when they will become pregnant through rape or incest, or when they will experience a

tragic fetal anomaly," said Lori Lamerand, chair of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan. "It is imperative that Gov. Snyder veto the bills and send a clear message that it's time for the lawmakers to stop putting themselves between patients and their doctors."

When legislators convene for the new session in January both chambers will continue to have solid Republican majorities, however the GOP majority in the House will be reduced from the current 20 votes to 8 in the new session.

Kaplan was clear that the temporary reprieve on the moral objection bills does not mean the issue is dead, and that LGBT activists will again be called on to fight back on these and other right-wing sponsored bills. "This is not a time to congratulate ourselves and become complacent again," said Kaplan. "The sad fact is that these bills would probably have the votes to pass and the potential to become law. And Governor Snyder could sign such measures into law. We need to continue to be vigilant and we need to continue to speak out."

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