By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
FRANKFORT, Ky. — Expanding access to Catholic education and repealing the death penalty were the focus of this year’s Catholics @ the Capitol events, held Feb. 3 and 4 at Frankfort’s Capital Plaza Hotel.
Winter weather — especially heavy snow — kept some of the 70 registered participants away. But about 40 Catholics from around Kentucky attended presentations on Monday concerning legislative issues identified as priorities by the state’s bishops. On Tuesday, participants visited their legislators at the Capitol to discuss those issues.
The annual Catholics @ the Capitol program is sponsored by the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, which represents Kentucky’s bishops.
Michael Monaghan, public policy analyst for the conference, told participants on Feb. 3 that a bill proposing tax credits for donations to public and private schools addresses a human rights issue.
“Catholic schools provide an excellent education and those schools are a great fit for certain people,” Monaghan said. “Money can be a barrier. If you’re from a family that doesn’t make that much money, you can’t go. You’re too poor. We tend to think, ‘that’s just the way it is.’
“Education is a work of mercy,” he said. “If we can change the laws to help the underprivileged access Catholic education, that’s what we need to do.”
House Bill 141 would increase tax credits to those who donate to public schools and non-public schools. Businesses that donate to certain non-profit organizations that help schools would receive a tax credit of 50 percent.
Monaghan said the measure would increase donations to both public and non-public schools. Private schools could use the funds for tuition assistance, enabling underprivileged children to attend. And donations to public schools, he said, could be used for such things as computers and other improvements, which would ease pressure on the state budget.
Monaghan urged his listeners to talk to their fellow parishioners, friends, school leaders and legislators about the issue.
He also noted that a subsidy to bus non-public school students to their schools, which is renewed each year, has not yet been established in this year’s budget. He urged Catholics to call their legislators about the issue.
Jason Hall, currently the associate director of the conference and the conference’s future executive director, said that school choice and the death penalty were identified as priorities this year because “we think the biggest impact could be made on these issues in the next few years.”
Father Patrick Delahanty, the executive director of the conference who’s preparing to retire this summer, spoke about the repeal of the death penalty. While capital punishment is considered immoral by the church, when other means are sufficient to preserve public safety, that’s not the only reason to end the practice, he said.
He said the death penalty in Kentucky is broken and unfixable. A study by the American Bar Association pointed out serious flaws in Kentucky’s system that renders the application of the death penalty arbitrary and expensive. It also risks killing an innocent person, he said, noting that 60 percent of Kentucky’s death sentences have been overturned.
“The fix is simple: Get rid of the death penalty and use life without parole. Speak clearly to legislators about this,” he told his listeners. Senate Bill 77 would replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole.
He also said, “The nation is trending away from the death penalty. Six states have repealed it in the past six years. There’s a growing list of victim family members who are willing to talk to their legislators about how they feel.”
Some of these survivors tell their stories and explain their opposition to the death penalty in a booklet that was sent to legislators prior to the opening of this year’s session, he said.