By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
FRANKFORT, Ky. — Criminal justice reform and expanding opportunities for educational choice were two key issues presented at the Catholics @ the Capitol event last week.
About 50 parishioners from the state’s four dioceses attended the event, held at the Capital Plaza Hotel Feb. 9, to learn about legislative issues important to the Catholic Church and visit Kentucky legislators. It was sponsored by the Catholic Conference of Kentucky (CCK), the public policy voice of the Kentucky’s bishops.
Jason Hall, executive director of the CCK, spoke to participants about legislation related to ex-felons, specifically record expungement and voting rights.
Hall noted that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a document in 2000 called “Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice,” which called for a more restorative approach to criminal justice.
Currently, people who have a Class D felony conviction often have a difficult time finding a steady job following release from prison, he said. Having their records expunged can be a lengthy process, Hall said.
Expungement legislation has been filed in both chambers — House Bill 40 and Senate Bill 77.
“The goal of every offender should be … that person end up restored to the community and a productive member of the community” Hall said. “The system should be seeking that. That is not the way our criminal justice system works most of the time, to say the least.”
Another proposal along these same lines, House Bill 70, would simplify the process of restoring voting rights to felons who have served their sentences. This legislation, which would change Kentucky’s constitution, allows Kentuckians to decide — through a vote — whether or not to automatically restore the voting rights of non-violent offenders who have completed their sentence.
Education was also a top issue identified by the CCK. Andrew Vandiver, the CCK’s associate director, spoke about the proposed scholarship tax credit program.
Senate Bill 44 and House Bill 336 would provide tax credits to individuals or businesses that make contributions to either a scholarship-granting organization — such as the Catholic Education Foundation — or a fund for public schools. (A story detailing the tax credit measure was published in The Record Feb. 11.)
“The problem this program tries to address is the lack of options, largely for low-income families, when it comes to education,” he said.
Vandiver said if the tax credit program passes, schools will benefit from increased giving.
“We not only hope but we know they will give more than what they are currently giving,” he said of donors. “That’s what we’ve seen in other states that have these programs — more money flowing into scholarship organizations.”
Vandiver urged those present to talk with their legislators about this issue and to emphasize the financial needs of low-income families, particularly those who wish to send their children to Catholic schools.
Robert Hart, a parishioner of Annunciation Church in Shelbyville, Ky., said gatherings such as Catholics @ the Capitol are informative.
“I like to keep up on issues and stay abreast of where the Catholic Church stands on important issues,” said Hart, who has attended several Catholics @ the Capitol events in years past.
Tom Mahl, a parishioner of St. Lawrence Church in the Diocese of Lexington, said he attended the Frankfort event because of his interest in life issues, particularly abortion.
“I learned we got a big victory,” Mahl said referring to Senate Bill 4, a measure related to informed consent prior to an abortion, which was signed by Gov. Bevin Feb. 2.
Anna Peterson, a parishioner of St. Gabriel Church, said she traveled to Frankfort to get an update on social justice issues important to the church. Peterson said she has spent the previous two years volunteering in Eastern Kentucky.
“I wanted to practice my civic duty and speak with representatives,” Peterson, who has interned with Catholic Charities of Louisville in the past, added.