Snyder: Planned Parenthood defunding plan ‘unconstitutional’

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature on Tuesday approved a $56.8 billion budget for next year that seeks to kill aid for Planned Parenthood despite a warning from GOP Gov. Rick Snyder the ban may be unconstitutional. 

The Planned Parenthood drama punctuated an otherwise smooth budget process for legislative leaders and the term-limited governor, who reached broad agreement on the budget last month after officials identified a $500 million surplus.

The budget deal includes $330 million in extra funding for road repairs and transportation projects next year, $100 million for Snyder’s new talent attraction plan and the largest per-pupil school funding boost of its kind since 2002.

Snyder cannot line-item veto boilerplate budget language. But Senate Democrats who voted for the general government spending bill appeared confident the governor will declare the Planned Parenthood provision unenforceable, an approach he has frequently employed in past years.

The $39.9 billion general government budget cleared the Senate in a 33-2 vote  prior to a narrower 66-43 vote in the House. A separate $16.8 billion education bill passed the House 63-46 and the Senate 25-11.

The controversial Planned Parenthood language would prohibit the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services from contracting for non-abortion family planning and reproductive services with an entity that also performs abortions, unless there are no alternative providers in the same county.

“This is a philosophical issue among members of the Legislature who believe in life and (are) pro-life,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell. “This is an opportunity to invest in organizations that will do more in terms of advancing the pro-life cause, protecting the unborn.”

Michigan already has a law directing the health department to prioritize family planning funding for groups. A “reenact-publish” clause in the state Constitution generally prohibits legislators from changing existing statute through boilerplate budget language.

“We are concerned the language is unconstitutional, and have shared those concerns with our legislative partners,” said Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton.

Democrats pointed to existing law as they bashed the Planned Parenthood ban in conference committee, where majority Republicans rejected a proposed amendment that would have stripped the divisive language from the budget bill. 

“This is geared at preventing abortion rather than making sure women have access to quality health care,” said Rep. Fred Durhal III, D-Detroit. “Women in our state deserve to have the right to choose what is done with their bodies. As state government, we should not be trying to legislate against that.”

Michigan contracts with several organizations to provide family planning services, which can include information on birth control and sexual health, pregnancy testing and counseling, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections and preventative health exams to screen for cancer or other health issues.

The services are partially funded by the federal Title X program at clinics across the state, including Planned Parenthood facilities in Detroit and the counties of Berrien, Emmet, Genesee, Grand Traverse, Ingham, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Kent, Macomb, Marquette, Mecosta, Muskegon, Oakland, Saginaw, Washtenaw and Wayne.

Lori Carpentier, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, called the budget language a “targeted attack on patients” who choose the organization for basic preventative services.

Planned Parenthood served 45,823 patients in the Title X Family Planning program in 2017 — nearly 70 percent of the full Michigan caseload, Carpentier said.

“This is a policy introduced for political gain and at the expense of Michigan’s women and families,” she said. “They deserve better.”

Planned Parenthood’s family planning contract is worth about $4.4 million this year, said state health department spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin. The department opposes the budget language, which would affect funding in 10 counties and services to 20,424 men and women, Sutfin said.

Right to Life of Michigan President Barb Listing accused the state of ignoring the priority funding law and said she thinks “the governor has been given bad information” about the constitutionality of the budget provision.

Education funding controversies

Snyder is expected to sign the spending plan later this month, completing a streak of early budgets in each of his eight years in office. The governor has usually shied away from controversial social issues such as the Republican push to defund Planned Parenthood.

“I think there’s a lot of things that could get line-item vetoed in here,” Hildenbrand acknowledged. “That’s the governor’s constitutional right. So once we present it to him, I think we’ll see where he falls on some of these issues.”

The $16.8 billion education budget heading to Snyder’s desk includes a $120 to $240 increase in per-pupil funding for K-12 schools. It would raise the minimum allowance per pupil 3.1 percent from $7,631 to $7,871.

The Snyder administration boasts that the funding increase would be the largest of its kind in 17 years. House Democrats said the funding was too little to make up for what they called a history of under-funding. 

“I am unwilling to accept crumbs,” said Rep. Donna Lasinski, D-Ann Arbor.

In controversial boilerplate language, lawmakers added penalties for low-performing school districts that don’t meet the requirements of the “partnership agreements” they’ve made with the state.

The partnership agreements are meant to develop and finance academic growth goals so the districts can avoid closure. The state currently has agreements with 18 districts or charter schools.

The budget provides $400 million of discretionary foundation allowance to the partnership districts if they meet the conditions of their agreements within 18 and 36 months. Failure to meet the benchmarks would trigger school closure or reconstitution.

Reconstitution would require the district to change its “instruction and non-academic programming,” replace at least a quarter of faculty and staff, and replace the principal unless the principal has been there less than three years.

“I think it adds some additional accountability that makes us feel a little bit better about the likelihood of success of the partnership agreements,” Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw Township, said after committee Tuesday.

Several House Democrats criticized the proposed required firing of a quarter of a school’s faculty, arguing it would deter people from pursuing a teaching career and included a loophole for charter schools.

In conference committee Tuesday morning, Democratic Rep. Robert Kosowski proposed an amendment that would slash the language. His amendment was not adopted.

“I understand that we want accountability. I’m all for that,” the Westland Democrat said. “But I just think there’s a way we can possibly soften this just a little bit.”

Where surplus is targeted

The governor and legislative leaders had already agreed to broad outlines of the budget, a process facilitated by a projected half-billion surplus resulting from unexpectedly large income and sales tax collections.

The state will pump an additional $300 million into Michigan road repairs next year under a traditional funding formula. A separate current-year supplemental spending bill includes $30 million in earmarks for specific transportation projects requested by both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, according to Senate leaders. 

Some of the $30 million will target Metro Detroit, including $297,200 for a Mound Road turnaround and $100,000 for the repaving of Summers Street in Utica.

The budget includes $25 million in new school safety grants, $30 million for a new School Mental Health and Support Services Fund and additional funding for the OK2Say student safety hotline. The state would also deposit $115 million into its “rainy day” budget stabilization fund, bringing the balance above $1 billion.

The $56.8 billion budget for 2019 would represent a 0.3 percent spending decrease from the current year, said Ellen Jeffries, director of the non-partisan Senate Fiscal Agency. General fund spending would decrease 2.3 percent, although lawmakers could approve supplemental spending throughout the year.

 “This is a great budget because we’re reducing the amount that we’re spending compared to current year,” Hildenbrand said. “I think we’re making a more efficient government process, and also it’s investing in key priorities like schools, roads, infrastructure and school safety.”

The budget would continue to scale back state spending on the Flint water contamination crisis following Snyder’s April decision to end free bottled water service in the city. The plan includes $4.6 million for Flint nutrition services, health services and lead poisoning prevention along with $3.2 million for local schools to employ extra school nurses and social workers.

Flint water has tested below federal lead standards for nearly two years, but many residents still refuse to drink from their taps. Local pastors and activists gathered in the Capitol ahead of the vote, urging Snyder to “make Flint whole” and pay for bottled water until all lead services lines in the city have been replaced.

"When he closed the water pods, it put us back in the beginning again," said Rev. Herbert Miller of Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle in Flint. "We all feel like we returned to the initial onset of this crisis, and he just walks away and walks off into the sunset because he’s ready to be out of office."

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Twitter: @jonathanoosting