Catholics from the Diocese of Rochester are encouraged to visit Albany Wednesday, March 19, to advance several public-policy issues.
The annual Catholics at the Capitol, to be held at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center, gives Catholics the opportunity to lobby for priorities determined by the state’s bishops. Hundreds of participants are expected from all eight dioceses of New York state, including several dozen from the Rochester Diocese. Participants will meet with their legislators and later take part in a rosary walk to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, where a 1:30 p.m. Mass will take place. The liturgy’s scheduled celebrant and homilist is New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan.
Serving as sponsor for Catholics at the Capitol is the New York State Catholic Conference, the public-policy arm of the state’s bishops. The bishops have selected five priorities for this year’s Catholics at the Capitol event:
* Supporting Pregnant Women and Opposing Abortion Expansion. On Jan. 27 the state Assembly passed the Women’s Equality Act (A8070) — a 10-point bill including a provision that, according to the Catholic conference, would expand late-term abortion, allow nondoctors to perform abortions, and make abortion exempt from regulations and restrictions. Last year the bill was passed by the Assembly but voted down by the Senate, which supported the bill’s other nine points.
The Catholic conference is calling for continued opposition to A8070 and also for expanded funding for the Maternity and Child Education Foundation, which helps low-income women who are pregnant. Petitions were signed in Rochester’s diocesan parishes Feb. 8-9, Public Policy Weekend, requesting a total of $6.5 million be added to this program and Healthy Families New York, which offers support and education through home visits to expectant parents and parents of newborns.
* Preserving Catholic Schools. The Catholic conference encourages passage of a bill (S4099/A1826) calling for the implementation of tax credits for families whose children attend Catholic schools. The conference noted that Catholic and other religious and independent schools save state taxpayers $9 billion annually, but that a growing number of families struggle to afford both taxes and tuition, resulting in many Catholic-school closings statewide and thus driving up enrollment — and costs — for the public-school system. Dennis Poust, the conference’s communications director, asserted that a tax-credit initiative is "not a bill that would hurt public schools in any way. It would help public schools."
* Ensuring Sufficient Funding for Programs for Vulnerable Populations. Poust said state budget cuts must not unduly burden not-for-profit agencies that serve such people as the developmentally disabled, the mentally ill, the chemically addicted and children. Meanwhile, the Catholic conference is asking that long-overdue cost-of-living wage hikes be accorded to human-service-agency employees. For instance, Marvin Mich, director of social-policy research at Rochester’s Catholic Family Center, said service providers at his agency have now gone several years without such an increase.
* Supporting Humane Treatment for Incarcerated Individuals. Poust said the Catholic conference is asking the state to consider releasing elderly and ill prisoners "who are no more a threat to anyone and cost the system a tremendous amount of money every year." In addition, he said the conference is calling for a re-evaluation of cells known as "special housing units" that confine prisoners for all but one hour per day. "In general, we believe it’s excessive," he said, noting that this is especially so for prisoners with serious mental illnesses and are at risk for suicide.
* Supporting Equitable Labor Standards for Farmworkers. Mich said that the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act (A1792/S1743) would give farmworkers rights they are currently denied such as overtime pay, child-labor protection, collective bargaining, workers compensation, a weekly day of rest, and proper sanitation and living conditions. "Whether they’re documented or undocumented, they should be treated with dignity in the workplace," Mich commented, while Poust asserted that passing such a bill should be "a no-brainer. It’s a matter of simple justice; farmworkers are the only group exempt from these basic worker protections."
EDITOR’S NOTE: Here are regional contacts for those interested in attending Catholics at the Capitol Day:
Kathy Dubel (Chemung, Schuyler and Tioga), 607-734-9784, or email@example.com;
Tabitha Brewster (Livingston), 585-658-4466, ext. 13, or firstname.lastname@example.org;
Marvin Mich (Monroe), 585-546-7220, ext. 7021, or email@example.com;
Ruth Marchetti (Monroe), 585-546-7220, ext. 7099, or firstname.lastname@example.org;
Lynda Lowin (Steuben), 607-776-8085, ext. 217, or email@example.com;
Laurie Konwinski (Tompkins, Seneca, Cayuga, Ontario and Yates), 607-272-5062 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or
Deacon Peter Dohr (Wayne), 315-331-4867 or email@example.com.
For details on Catholics at the Capitol, visit www.nyscatholic.org.