GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER – ELEVATING THE WOMEN OF MICHIGAN

It’s been a year since we featured Michigan’s Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, on our May 2021 cover. A few weeks ago, our Managing Editor, Marji Wisniewski, sat down with the Governor again to discuss the current issues and future plans that affect the women of our state. This interview is also available via video link on our social media and website. 

WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP
Marji: Here at The Brick, we are passionate about celebrating women, lifting them up, and sharing their stories. How are you elevating the women of Michigan?

Governor Whitmer: First, I appreciate the work that The Brick does. We are taking a lot of aggressive actions to support the women of our state. It’s undeniable that this pandemic has exacerbated the gender disparities that were long there before. This has been called a “she-session” because so many women have left the workforce. 

In the first days of my administration, I signed an executive order designed around pay equity, gender protections, and the 12-week parental leave. This is just for state jobs, I want to see this expanded for all. We’ve made huge investments in early childhood education and daycare. We’re going to continue with the free preschool work that we’ve been doing to make sure everyone in the state has access. We’re working really hard to level the barriers that women face.

MI EARNED INCOME TAX CREDIT

MW: Can you talk about your plan to triple the Mi earned income tax credit. What will that mean to our pockets in 2022 and 2023?

GW: My goal is to get it done now so we can feel the immediate relief. The earned income tax credit is a great policy that has had bipartisan support over the years. This bill recognizes that there are a lot of people in our society who work full-time but still don’t make enough money to just meet their daily needs. The earned income tax credit, the Michigan part of it, is about $3,000 to 730,000 families in Michigan. 

The best part of it is we are disproportionately helping kids. One million Michigan kids live in these households that would benefit. That’s half of Michigan’s kids that live in a household that have a parent or guardian that works full-time yet doesn’t make enough money to meet their needs. $3,000 is a lot of money that can help these households, of which many are women led. The tax credit supports working families and single-moms in particular. 


AFFORDABLE CHILDCARE

MW: For our readers who have young children and need childcare, what have you done to make that more affordable to the average Michigander? What can we expect from you in regards to even more expansion of affordable access to childcare in the future? 

GW: In the last budget we expanded the “Great Start” readiness program which is for four-year-olds. We have increased eligibility so that 22,000 more kids have access to this phenomenal program. 112,000 more Michigan families got access to free or very low-cost childcare if they make less than $49,000 a year (as a family of four). We’ve made some real investments in this space, but we have an opportunity to do more and that is reflected in the budget that I introduced about a month ago. Legislature is doing their part and we’ll start to negotiate it at some point soon, but this is something that I hope to expand on. 

MW: You have chosen to lead by example by enacting a 12-week parental leave for state employees. How can we encourage other organizations to follow suit?

GW: That’s right. It has been utilized by a number of folks. It makes a huge difference and gives parents the ability to bond with their newborn children. And we’ve seen as many men take the leave as the women, which is great. This is something that helps the whole family. It can work – and it can make for a better environment for a workforce that’s happier and more efficient because they’ve got the support they need. 

INVESTMENTS IN EDUCATION

MW: In July of last year, you signed the “School Aid” budget into law making it the largest investment to date in our public school system. What are some of the ways this has improved our schools over the last year? And, what still needs to be done to support the learning loss they face because of the pandemic? 

GW: One of the things that we’ve been able to do, even in the midst of all the other tough things we’ve been navigating, is every year we’ve made record investments in public education. I think that’s critical now, more than ever. The pandemic has been the worst kind of disruption our children’s learning. I proposed yet another state historic level of funding, investing in our kids. 

It is really important to focus on how we make sure there are great people at the head of the class teaching our kids. We’ve made this incredible investment in terms of improving the condition of the buildings and access to technology. These are the wrap-around items that will help our kids catch up. And of course, wrap-around services like a school nurse, health care in the school, mental health care, counseling support. I know we all say our kids are resilient – and they are – but there’s no question that they are carrying the stress of the last two years and we want to help them work through it and have the support they need to get back on track. 

MW: I saw that your budget has tripled the number of literacy coaches in our schools to help every child read by third grade. This is so important. However, I would also be interested in hearing how you are planning to support our children’s mental health in school as they have experienced an unprecedented few years of challenges to their mental health. And not only providing the funds for that, but how do we help schools hire and keep the talented staff? 

GW: Part of the budget that I’ve introduced, (and I hope the Legislature sees the wisdom in it), was driven by parental involvement and the expertise of our educators; is a bonus structure. So, for everyone who works in our public schools and comes back to their same district in the fall, they get a $2,000 bonus. If they return again the following fall, they receive another $2,000. We need to hold on to the experts that we have. We recognize that many are leaving, as these last few years have taken a toll, and we already had too few people going into the profession in the first place. So, we’ve structured this to encourage people to stay with their district and make a commitment that supports the kids, and also encourage more people to go into education in the first place. 

REPRODUCTIVE CHOICE 

MW: In September of last year, you called on the legislature to send Senator Erika Geiss’ bill that repeals our nearly-century-old ban on abortion to your desk. You said you have always stood with those fighting for their right to choose and you said you’d stand in the way of any bills that seek to strip away fundamental rights from women or get in the way of doctors’ ability to do their jobs.”  Where does this stand today? How will the other states changing their abortion laws effect the women of Michigan?

GW: I think every person in Michigan should be concerned about this because the Supreme Court is going to make a determination on Roe v. Wade. Most Supreme Court observers think that Roe’s days are numbered, or at least Roe as we know it. And that means in states like Michigan that have anti-choice laws on the books – that’s what we will revert to the 1931 law that criminalizes reproductive healthcare in a number of ways, not just in regards to abortion. This is going to compromise our health, make Michigan less competitive, and hurt our ability to have multiple generations want to call Michigan home and continue to build their lives here. It’s going to be a huge problem for us. 

So, I’d like to have a new statute that I can sign into law that will protect us. I don’t know if this Legislature makeup is ever going to do that. In fact, they’ve given us reason to believe that if they had a different governor, they would have already made Michigan an anti-choice state. It’s my veto that is keeping choice alive in Michigan right now. I’d like to earn four more years and a Legislature that will actually work with me to codify this important right to autonomy in our reproductive choices that we make. 

Update from April 7, 2022 Press Release from the Governor’s office:

On April 7, 2002 Governor Whitmer filed a lawsuit using executive authority to protect legal abortion in Michigan taking action to protect abortion access. 

Michigan’s Pre-Roe Ban

The current version of Michigan’s law criminalizing abortion without exceptions for rape or incest was enacted in 1931. In 1973, the passage of Roe v. Wade rendered Michigan’s 1931 ban unconstitutional and abortion became legal in the state of Michigan. This year, Roe could be overturned in the Dobbs v. Jackson case, triggering Michigan’s 1931 abortion ban.

Governor Whitmer’s Lawsuit

The governor’s action today represents the first time a governor has filed a lawsuit to protect a woman’s right to abortion since the U.S. Supreme Court signaled its recent willingness to consider overturning or circumscribing the federal right to an abortion.

The lawsuit asks the court to recognize a constitutional right to an abortion under the Due Process Clause of the Michigan Constitution.  It also asks the court to stop enforcement of the 1931 Michigan abortion ban. The abortion ban violates Michigan’s due process clause, which provides a right to privacy and bodily autonomy that is violated by the state’s near-total criminal ban of abortion. It also violates Michigan’s Equal Protection Clause due to the way the ban denies women equal rights because the law was adopted to reinforce antiquated notions of the proper role for women in society. 

Michiganders on Abortion

For Michiganders, this issue is beyond settled. According to a poll from January 2022, 67.3% of Michiganders support Roe and 65.7% support repealing Michigan’s 1931 trigger ban on abortion. Over 77%, believe abortion should be a woman’s decision.  A sizeable majority of Michiganders agree that abortion is a decision to for a woman to make in consultation with a medical professional she trusts.