May 9, 2011/Detroit Free Press
Michigan's Republican lawmakers continue to press their own social agendas on the rest of the state. The latest assault came last week with an amendment to the House bill on education funding. Rep. David Agema, R-Grandville, got majority backing for his plan to subtract 5% from the state funding of any university that offers health insurance coverage for employees who live with another adult outside of marriage.
Another GOP amendment would require additional reporting on embryonic stem cell research -- a transparent effort to impede a scientific inquiry Michigan voters have explicitly endorsed. That change was added by a House subcommittee.
Michigan's Constitution gives the state's 15 universities an unusual degree of autonomy, a frequent source of annoyance for lawmakers. In this case, their zeal to control the universities may even be unconstitutional. But that won't stop them from trying.
It is probably useless to point out that the Legislature couldn't muster the votes to stop the state Civil Service Commission from putting a similar policy in effect for state employees. Or that some of the state's tax dollars -- via contracts and numerous corporate tax breaks -- may also go to companies that offer same-sex benefits.
Agema's amendment requires each university to prove, by Dec. 1, that it offers no insurance coverage for "any adult coresident" of an employee, or for a coresident's dependents. Universities that satisfy the requirement would receive the 5% payment.
Most Michigan universities offer health insurance coverage that includes household member benefits, according to Michael Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan. Universities reasonably oppose any restriction that stands in the way of recruiting top-notch faculty.
Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2004 defining marriage between a man and a woman as the only type of union the state can recognize for any legal purpose. But that language has little relevance to what universities are doing now, which encompasses almost any sort of "live-in" arrangement.
Lawmakers need to stop interfering with decisions that the state Constitution leaves to university boards -- especially when Lansing's ham-handed efforts stymie scientific inquiry and hamstring Michigan's efforts to compete for top academic talent.