Catholics learn about issues facing legislators

By MARNIE McALLISTER, Record Assistant Editor
About 50 people attended a Catholics @ the Capitol event at St. Aloysius Church in Pewee Valley, Ky., Jan. 12, including Jane Queenan, left, and Tabitha Jones. (Photo by Marnie McAllister)
About 50 people attended a Catholics @ the Capitol event at St. Aloysius Church in Pewee Valley, Ky., Jan. 12, including (from left) Carolyn Hoskins, Jane Queenan, Tabitha Jones and Father Terry Bradshaw. (Photo by Marnie McAllister)

The Catholic Conference of Kentucky, the public policy arm of Kentucky’s four bishops, is in the midst of its Catholics @ the Capitol effort — designed to interest Catholics around Kentucky in the issues facing their state legislators.

Father Patrick Delahanty, executive director of the conference, told about 50 people who attended a Catholics @ the Capitol event at St. Aloysius Church in Pewee Valley, Ky., last week that Catholics account for about 10 percent of the state’s population and “can have an impact” on the state’s laws.

He highlighted a variety of issues during the program that Kentucky’s legislators may consider — and possibly act upon — during the current session. These issues, he said, relate to the church’s moral principles and Catholic social teaching. They include: informed consent for abortion, the death penalty, health care reform, religious liberty, immigration, human trafficking, tax reform, capping pay day loans and restoration of voter rights.

  • Informed consent — a measure that would tweak an existing law — requires abortion providers to conduct a face-to-face meeting with a patient to inform her about the procedure 24-hours prior to an abortion. The meeting could be conducted by the physician or a person representing the physician, such as a nurse or social worker.

“Women have the right to know,” Father Delahanty said. “I don’t think anyone in this room would have surgery after a recorded telephone message.”

The existing informed consent law calls for a meeting between the provider and patient, but a recorded message fulfills the law as it has been interpreted presently.

Father Delahanty said these messages are problematic for a couple of reasons. They don’t allow patients to ask questions and there’s no assurance that a patient heard the message, he said.

He also noted that the new informed consent measure wouldn’t stop abortions, but said it “may help a patient make an informed decision and hopefully will lead to fewer abortions.”

“Our opponents like to talk about choice. This gives women an informed choice,” he added.

  • House Bill 48 and Senate Bill 45, measures that seek to abolish Kentucky’s death penalty, add “another step toward the inevitable abolition of the death penalty in Kentucky,” Father Delahanty said. The bills are sponsored by Rep. Carl Rollins of Midway, Ky., and Sen. Gerald Neal of Louisville.

“This is part of a nationwide trend because people have begun to conclude that this is a wasteful government program that risks killing the innocent when life without parole keeps violent killers off the streets,” Father Delahanty said. “When mistakes are made they can be corrected.”

Father Delahanty is also the chair of the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and has worked on abolition for decades. For Catholics, he said, “the Catechism (of the Catholic Church) is clear on this teaching.”

He also pointed out a report issued by the American Bar Association that concluded the death penalty system in Kentucky is riddled with problems.

“The death penalty system we use is a broken death penalty system. So even if you do support the death penalty, you don’t support the one we have now,” said Father Delahanty. “There’s a growing movement throughout the country to abolish the death penalty. People are fed up with this process.”

He also noted that up to seven death warrants could reach the governor’s desk this year.

One person who’s not on that death-warrant list is Gregory Wilson, a death row inmate who was set to be executed about two years ago when the penalty was suspended. It was suspended because the state’s lethal injection procedure was called into question. A new protocol has been developed.

But in the meantime, Wilson has been granted a hearing to determine if he has mental retardation, Father Delahanty said.

“A man the governor would have killed has enough evidence to warrant a hearing. That’s how the death penalty plays out in Kentucky,” he added.

Catholics are being urged to ask the governor to suspend executions and to ask their legislators to cosponsor HB 48.

  • While the U.S. bishops and the CCK support health care reform and most of the Affordable Care Act, Father Delahanty said, he also noted that “there are still many problems” with the new federal legislation.

The bishops specifically oppose a provision mandating that employers, including many religious institutions, provide free coverage of contraceptives, including some that can cause abortions. Father Delahanty said the U.S. bishops and more than three dozen institutions that have filed lawsuits are addressing that issue at the federal level.

At the state level, the CCK is working to expand Medicaid and supports a state health care exchange. To that end, the CCK opposes two measures: Senate Bill 39, which prevents the expansion of Medicaid, and Senate Bill 40, which prohibits a state health care exchange.

“We prefer a state health care exchange because that fits better into the principal of subsidiarity — if it can be done on the local level, we need to do it at the local level,” said Father Delahanty.

He also noted that the CCK supports state exchanges because, “in Kentucky we already have a law that forbids asking all of us to pay for abortions. In a federal exchange, we’d have to follow their current rules which are unacceptable and violate our conscience,” he said.

He called that Medicaid expansion “just good common sense.”

“It benefits more than 300,000 people in Kentucky without insurance,” he noted. “For the first three years the federal government picks up 100 percent of the cost and after that it picks up 95 percent. It only makes sense.”

  • The CCK is also interested in measures that seek to end human trafficking.

“It’s modern-day slavery. It’s horrendous,” Father Delahanty said of the practice of buying and selling human beings.

Human trafficking is a growing problem in the United States, Father Delahanty said. He noted that the money involved in human trafficking is second only to that of the drug trade in the United States.

The CCK is most interested a “safe harbor” provision that would prevent a child-victim of trafficking from being charged with criminal behavior.

“A juvenile charged with prostitution in what really is a trafficking situation should not be charged but treated as a victim,” Father Delahanty explained at St. Aloysius.

  • Father Delahanty also noted that the CCK has worked for several years to see a 36 percent rate cap placed on pay-day loans.

“We’re hoping to see the bill introduced in both chambers,” Father Delahanty said, noting, “with additional support from other faith communities, we’ll pick up enough votes to pass it.”

  • The CCK also supports House Bill 70 which seeks the automatic restoration of voter rights for convicted felons who have completed their sentences. It is sponsored by Rep. Jessie Crenshaw.
  • On religious liberty — a hot issue at the national level — Father Delahanty said the CCK would like to see Kentucky adopt a state religious freedom restoration act.
  • The CCK also supports school choice tax credits for businesses, because he said the state’s bishops believe “parents have a right to choose” their child’s school. Father Delahanty said he expects legislation on this issue to get more attention in 2014.
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