2017 General Assembly called a success

By Marnie McAllister, Record Editor

GeneralAssemblyDome2017-fThe Catholic Conference of Kentucky (CCK) made “incredible progress” in the 2017 session of the Kentucky General Assembly, according to Jason Hall, executive director of the conference.

“When you look back over the whole session it was pretty good,” he said during a phone interview April 13.

Four major priorities for the CCK — three measures related to abortion and another related to criminal justice reform — passed into law. And another priority for the conference — scholarship tax credits — is expected to be considered in a special tax session later this year, he said.

Citing the three measures related to abortion, Hall said, “All of those things passed easily.”

One measure limits abortions to the first 20 weeks of gestation. Another requires medical providers to offer an ultrasound to a woman seeking an abortion (she may choose not to view it). The third measure enables government-funded reimbursements for health-care services to be channelled first to healthcare providers that don’t offer abortions. The Kentucky law was contingent on passage of a federal law to permit the redirection of funds.

President Donald Trump signed a law April 13 that allows states to direct Title X family planning funding away from clinics that perform abortions and to community clinics that provide health care for women and children. The new federal law overrides a rule change made in the last days of President Obama’s administration that prevented states from doing so.

As the CCK looks ahead to other issues related to crisis pregnancy and women’s health, Hall said, the conference will continue to support legislation that provides workplace protections for women during and after pregnancy.

The CCK also was glad to see criminal justice reform move forward, though Hall said “the bill didn’t do as much as we’d hoped.”

“This bill includes a number of positive re-entry provisions that give hope to people who have served their sentences and are

trying to successfully reintegrate into society,” Hall noted in a letter to CCK supporters recently. “It also provides greater ease of access to treatment for substance abuse.”

Hall said that a lot of reform supporters contacted legislators about this issue. He believes these efforts helped “get this one over the finish line.”

Hall said he hopes other issues related to criminal justice reform can be tackled in future sessions.

The CCK’s fifth priority this year centers on increasing scholarship opportunities for private-school students, including those who attend Catholic schools. The CCK supports measures that would provide tax credits to those who donate to certain scholarship-granting organizations, such as the Catholic Education Foundation.

A bill to approve the tax credits in the 2017 regular session did not advance, but the proposal is expected to be considered in a special session on tax reform later this year, Hall said.

Hall also outlined some of the CCK’s priorities for the future.

Criminal justice reform  will continue to be a priority, as will health care reform at the state level.

“Health care remains a real issue for us, he noted. “We’re waiting to see what Congress does” and watching what steps the governor takes on medicaid. “We’re keeping a sharp eye on that. We’re very concerned about the impact that might have on Kentuckians.”

A new issue  for the CCK, raised by Gov. Matt Bevin, relates to the foster and adoption systems in Kentucky. The governor’s office has called on the state’s stakeholders in adoption and foster care to reexamine the system, Hall noted.

“There’s a concern that there are too many children in the foster system bound for adoption caught in a slow process,” Hall said, adding, the governor believes the process can be more efficient and user friendly.

“They’re asking all churches to take an interest in this and help improve the system. We’re accepting that challenge,” Hall said.

Hall plans to gather Catholic Charities agencies in Kentucky — which provide adoption services — and respect life groups to meet with representatives of the governor’s administration.

“It’s a real positive thing that everyone can buy into,” he said. “You have parents who are wanting to adopt and kids who are in the system ready to be adopted.”

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