In a little less than two weeks, Catholics from across New York state will come to Albany as a show of support for the New York State Catholic Conference’s Public Policy Day. While the conference works all year long to ensure that our government responds with justice and concern to the issues of our day, March 14 is set aside as a special day in which we gather as Catholics with one voice.
I invite you to become familiar with the issues in our 2006 Legislative Agenda and those on which we especially focus this day in Albany. Please offer your prayer, support and, if possible, your involvement for this nonpartisan effort.
As Roman Catholics, we are called to serve, heal, minister and protect — especially the most vulnerable among us. Jesus is our model. Indeed, St. Luke tells us Christ began his public ministry by publicly announcing his fulfillment of the words of the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
Thus, we are called as Christians to intervene wherever we can to create a community, local and global, of care and compassion and justice — to “proclaim liberty.”
We also have a responsibility as citizens of monitoring the work of our elected representatives and, if necessary, offering our counsel and effecting change. “It is the halls of government where decisions are made and policies are set that have a profound impact on families and children, the poor and vulnerable, the elderly and the disabled. If we as Catholics turn our backs on our duty as citizens, we quite simply also turn our backs on the central beliefs of our faith,” the preface to the Conference’s 2006 Legislative Agenda reads.
The issues we hope to spotlight on Public Policy Day are crucial ones, affecting our quality of life, the health of our families and the moral fiber of our society. I would like to present a broad overview here, but I encourage you to familiarize yourself with the details and status of these issues and the specific steps we are promoting. I urge you to learn more — and to join the Catholic Advocacy Network — by visiting www.nyscatholic.org or writing the conference at 465 State St., Albany, NY 12203.
The theme for Public Policy Day is Restoring the Covenant: Keeping Society’s Pledge to the Poor, Vulnerable and the Voiceless. It is taken from the title of the New York State Bishops’ 2005 pastoral letter on the poor and vulnerable. This year, my brother bishops and I have selected the following legislative priorities as the focus of the day:
* Education tax credits for parents in religious, independent and public schools. There are a number of strong reasons why we support this proposal, among them that the tax credits would benefit not only parents of children in the state’s private schools — which save taxpayers an estimated $7 billion a year — but offer parents of all children a wider range of choices.
* Promotion of ethical stem-cell research and a ban on embryo research and human cloning. Since it is likely some state funding may go toward some biotechnology research, it is crucial we urge support for adult stem-cell and umbilical-cord blood research because it is successful and ethical, and that we continue to vigorously oppose human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research.
* Passage of Timothy’s Law to provide equity in insurance coverage for mental-illness and substance-abuse treatment. Timothy’s Law — named for a 12-year-old Schenectady boy with mental illness who committed suicide in 2001 after not getting the treatment he needed — would aid people who wish to seek treatment for mental illness and substance abuse, and with fair insurance treatment.
* Access to health care. The conference is opposed to proposed budget reductions in Medicaid and Family Health Plus benefits. It is crucial that people, most especially those least able to afford it, have a safety net that protects them. They must have adequate coverage that meets the rising costs of care in emergency rooms, outpatient care and treatment in such areas as behavioral health, substance abuse and dental services.
* Continued reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. My brother bishops and I in New York state have identified four principles with regard to reform: greater judicial discretion in sentencing; reduction of severe sentencing provisions, especially for nonviolent drug offenders; judicial review of current sentences that may be miscarriages of justice; and increased funding for and access to addiction-treatment programs in state prisons and in communities across the state. While progress has been made in the past two or so years, more changes are still needed.
As I have said, this is but a broad overview of quite complicated issues. All go to the very heart of the church’s efforts to promote a better society for all. Please join us in person or in spirit in this nonpartisan effort. I personally have found our good women and men in state government willing to listen, and sharing our view that our community must be the brightest beacon of hope, justice and equality it can be and that New York should be a place where no one is left behind.
Peace to all.