Catholics from the Diocese of Rochester will join hundreds from around New York state to buttonhole legislators in Albany on Tuesday, March 14, for the New York State Catholic Conference’s annual Public Policy Day.
The conference represents the state’s bishops on matters of public policy, and has a wide-ranging agenda to advance this year, according to Dennis Poust, spokesman.
Catholics will lobby their legislators on issues that include education tax credits for parents of nonpublic-school students; promotion of adult and umbilical-cord stem-cell research and opposition to embryonic research and human cloning; passage of Timothy’s Law to provide parity in health insurance for mental-health and substance-abuse treatment; increased access to health care for the poor and uninsured; and continued reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws.
During the Rochester Diocese’s annual Public Policy Weekend Feb. 11-12, parishioners were asked to sign petitions urging legislators to promote adult stem-cell research and prohibit embryonic stem-cell research. Ethically acceptable stem-cell research is this year’s parish-based public-policy advocacy goal, and the petitions will be delivered to state legislators March 14, according to the diocese.
Poust added that the hottest issue at the moment is education tax credits, the subject of a Valentine’s Day rally that drew thousands to Albany (see related story on page A6). The rally featured appearances by Gov. George Pataki and New York Cardinal Edward Egan. Pataki has included in his proposed budget a plan to provide tax credits to parents of nonpublic-school students in underperforming public-school districts. Public-school districts are considered to be underperforming when they fail to meet student-achievement standards set by the federal government, Poust said.
According to the conference, Pataki’s proposal would enable parents to receive credits for such expenses as tutoring, summer instruction and other supplementary instruction, as well as tuition at religious or independent schools. Pataki has announced that he would include in his executive budget a $500-per-child education tax credit for parents of children in underperforming school districts.
Sister Patricia Carroll, assistant superintendent for government services and administration in the Rochester Diocese’s Department of Catholic Schools, attended the Feb. 14 rally and said that supporters of education credits were urged to speak with their legislators before March 31, when the budget is due.
Poust stressed that although the education tax-credit proposal is a hot issue, the church considers other issues just as important.
“The breadth of our agenda is wide, and we can’t promote this issue at the expense of others,” he said. “It’s critical that we protect human life and, at the same time, promote the real potential of adult stem cells and umbilical-cord blood cells. We must speak out on behalf of the voiceless in terms of increasing access to health care and getting people the mental-health and substance-abuse treatment they need.”
On that note, representatives from around the Rochester Diocese said they plan to talk with their state legislators about a range of issues.
Marv Mich, director of social policy and research for Rochester’s Catholic Family Center, said his agency plans to press for reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws — which mandate lengthy prison sentences for possession of illicit drugs, and which the Catholic conference has criticized for unduly punishing low-level first-time nonviolent offenders. Mich noted that among those traveling with him to Albany will be representatives of Freedom House, which is part of Restart, CFC’s program to treat men with chemical addictions.
Kathy Dubel, justice-and-peace director for Catholic Charities of Chemung/Schuyler/Tioga counties, said about 15 parishioners, Catholic-school students and her agency’s staff members will go to Albany. She noted her delegation will deliver petitions calling for ethical stem-cell research; promote education tax credits; and call for parity in mental-health insurance. According to information from the Catholic conference, the bishops are calling for passage of Timothy’s Law (A.6498), which addresses various barriers that discourage individuals from seeking treatment for mental illness and substance abuse.
The Sisters of St. Joseph’s Justice and Peace Committee will send to Albany a delegation of two or three people, according to Sister Anne Urquhart, pastoral associate at Rochester’s St. Andrew Church. She noted that the sisters will present petitions calling for ethical stem-cell research and post cards calling for education tax credits.
Bishop Matthew H. Clark is slated to receive from the New York State Council of Catholic Charities Directors the Bishop Frank Mugavero Award for “outstanding contributions to the work of Catholic Charities.” The bishop will receive the award at a reception March 13 in Albany.
Jack Balinsky, Catholic Charities director for the Rochester Diocese, called Bishop Clark “the leader who has inspired the decentralization and expansion of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Rochester.”
“The bishop has viewed Catholic Charities as the leaven to call parishes and the diocesan community to service and advocacy,” Balinsky said.