Catholics to address state lawmakers during policy day - Catholic Courier

Catholics to address state lawmakers during policy day

Opposition to Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s proposed Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act will be one of the central messages Catholics will convey to lawmakers March 11 during the New York State Catholic Conference’s 2008 Public Policy Day in Albany.

Although the conference has identified several other priorities about which it also will lobby that day, Spitzer’s abortion proposal tops the list, said Dennis Poust, director of communications for the conference, which represents New York’s bishops in public-policy matters.

“We generally don’t prioritize our issues, but this bill is so repugnant that we have no choice but to go out in force on it,” Poust said.

The bill, also known as RHAPP, would block nearly any proposed state regulation or restriction on abortion, such as parental notifications for abortions to be performed on minor children or restrictions on taxpayer funding.

The bill also could be used to force Catholic hospitals, agencies and schools to support abortion, provide coverage for abortion or, in the case of hospitals, allow abortions to be performed on their premises. The bill would allow non-doctors to perform abortions and would allow post-viability abortions to take place on an outpatient basis in clinics rather than in hospitals.

The bill has been introduced in the Republican-controlled state Senate, which is not expected to pass it. Historically, state Republican legislators have been more supportive of pro-life causes than have Democratic legislators. However, Poust observed that Senate Republicans have a razor-thin 32-to-30-member margin over Democrats that could put the Senate into a tie situation if even two seats flip. In that situation, Democratic Lt. Gov. David Patterson would cast the deciding vote.

Poust said Spitzer’s administration has been radically pro-abortion.

“In the past, Governors Pataki and Cuomo were pro-abortion, but Gov. Spitzer is proving to be an abortion activist,” Poust said. “It’s taking us down a very dangerous path in our state.”

The six other priorities the state’s bishops have identified for Public Policy Day are:

* Opposition to Spitzer’s proposal to legalize same-sex unions, whether they are called marriages or civil unions.

The conference noted that marriage between a man and woman has been humanity’s way of ensuring the procreation, education and stable rearing of children. It contends that laws permitting same-sex unions undermine marriage by removing the link to procreation.

The conference emphasized that the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that homosexual men and women must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity, and that every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard must be avoided. But the conference noted that the state does not need to redefine the nature of marriage to address such discrimination.

Legalizing same-sex marriages or civil unions can create religious-freedom issues, the Catholic Conference also noted. In New Jersey, for example, the state denied the tax-exempt status of a Methodist-owned boardwalk pavilion because it did not permit same-sex unions to be performed there. In Massachusetts, Catholic Charities of Boston was forced to stop placing children for adoption because it would have been required to place children in the homes of same-sex couples, the Catholic Conference said.

Poust noted that the Assembly passed Spitzer’s proposed bill to legalize same-sex marriage last year.

“This year, it’s up to the Senate to hold the line on traditional marriage,” he said.

  • Support for education tax credits.
  • The parents of 500,000 New York children in independent and religious schools save taxpayers more than $7.5 billion each year, the conference estimated. Declining enrollment and rising costs prompted the Rochester Diocese to announce in January that it would close 13 diocesan schools, and other dioceses across the state also have taken similar steps. The number of Catholic schools nationwide declined from 853 in 1996 to fewer than 750 12 years later, Poust said.

    “The closing of Catholic schools increases the cost on taxpayers and overburdens an already overcrowded public-school system,” according to a conference statement that provides background on the issue.

    Though Spitzer previously had supported a tuition tax deduction, he has since backed away from this plan, Poust said. The conference is calling for a $2,000 tuition tax credit rather than a tax deduction.

    “A tax deduction is not worth as much as a tax credit,” Poust remarked.

    Public-school teachers’ unions have strongly opposed the bill, Poust said, noting that such opposition props up failing public schools at the expense of poor, working-poor and middle-class families.

    “We don’t want Catholic schools to only be in the realm of the wealthy,” he said.

  • Support for state efforts to help the working poor.
  • Among such efforts to help the working poor are expanding access to health insurance for uninsured children, expanding public programs to provide coverage to more low- and moderate-income adults, and rejecting proposals that will make health insurance less affordable.

    “Access to health insurance is on the minds of lots of folks,” said Kathy Dubel, justice-and-peace director for Catholic Charities of Chemung/Schuyler and a member of the Diocese of Rochester’s Public Policy Committee.

    “Because of the cost of health insurance, many families don’t have the resources to have insurance, and that puts them at risk when there’s a health crisis,” she added.

    Dubel said budget counselors for Catholic Charities of Chemung/Schuyler often find that bankruptcies are linked to a lack of health insurance.

  • Encourage reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions from all sources.
  • The Catholic Conference is supporting efforts to cut greenhouse-gas emissions from such sources as buildings, vehicles and agriculture in addition to cuts already scheduled by utility companies in emissions from power plants. The conference also advocates development of strategies to reduce vulnerability to climate changes that may already have taken place, Poust said.

    Marvin Mich, director of social policy and research for Rochester’s Catholic Family Center, said diocesan petitions in support of the initiative will be hand-delivered to lawmakers. The petitions were signed by parishioners during Public Policy Weekend Feb. 2 and 3 and called for reduced emissions and funding for energy efficiency, renewable-energy initiatives, and help paying utility costs for low-income New Yorkers.

  • Encourage expansion of support for working families.
  • To help working families, the conference supports child care, housing, health care, transportation, and education and training programs so working families can achieve self-sufficiency; expansion of the earned-income tax credit; and increasing the public-assistance grant to help individuals transition from welfare to work.

    Poust said the conference also advocates streamlining the enrollment processes for such programs as Medicaid.

  • Encourage providing access to essential services for immigrants and migrants.
  • The conference supports health-care and education services for immigrants and migrants. Among these initiatives are increasing access to English literacy and English as a second language programs, protecting the rights of migrant farmworkers, and ensuring the provision of services to human-trafficking victims.

    “We are not as interested in their papers as we are in are they being treated with dignity, are they getting health care, have they received inoculations and do their children have access to schools?” Poust said.

      EDITOR’S NOTE: There is no cost to attend Public Policy Day, and the Diocese of Rochester is arranging transportation to Albany from Monroe County, the Finger Lakes and the Southern Tier. Event details and an online sign-up form for the diocesan transportation may be found at www.nyscatholic.org. Those who do not have Internet access may call 585-262-7021.

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