By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
FRANKFORT, Ky. — Scholarship tax credits, workplace protections for mothers and the death penalty were three key issues discussed at the Catholics @ the Capitol event last week.
The annual event, which took place at the Capital Plaza Hotel and the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., Feb. 13, aimed to help Catholics learn about issues important to the church and visit lawmakers.
It was sponsored by the Catholic Conference of Kentucky (CCK), the public policy voice of the Kentucky’s bishops.
Bishop John Stowe of the Diocese of Lexington, Ky., delivered the opening remarks. He thanked participants, saying their presence was “a beautiful expression of putting our faith into action and recognizing that we have something to contribute to the common good in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”
The church is not partisan, noted Bishop Stowe.
“Our church tries to transcend those issues that divide humanity. We take sides on issues based on our Scripture, our tradition our moral way of living and what we think is for the good of all the inhabitants of our state.”
That’s why the church has been “consistent about the sanctity of human life, especially the most vulnerable forms of human life,” the bishop said. He pointed out the legislation aiming to protect pregnant mothers in the workforce and end the death penalty.
“We also have been convicted for a long time that the formation of young people is critical to the life of the church and we’ve invested a great deal of energy and resources into a Catholic school system that we would really love to extend to more and more people,” said Bishop Stowe.
He was referring, in part, to efforts to promote legislation that would create a tax credit for people who donate to certain scholarship-granting organizations. The legislation is proposed in Senate Bill 36 and House Bill 134.
Andrew Vandiver, associate director of the CCK, presented an update on these bills. He cited as a “success” the sponsorship of Rep. John “Bam” Carney, the house education committee chairman.
“Rep. Carney is a long-time public school teacher and administrator in Taylor County Public School system. Some of our biggest opponents argue from a public school perspective. He’s here to say ‘I’m for good public schools and school choice and I see no inconsistency being in favor of both,’ ” said Vandiver. “It’s really good to have the education chair sponsoring your education bill.”
Vandiver said there is “strong support” for the bill in both chambers with seven sponsors from both parties in the House and three senators supporting the bill, including Sen. Max Wise, the Senate education committee chair.
On the subject of pregnant women, Jason Hall, executive director of the CCK, discussed Senate Bill 38. The bill would require employers to make “reasonable accommodation” for women during pregnancy and childbirth.
The bill would also “reinforce protections against pregnant women being disciplined or fired because of inability to do their job.”
“I’m very excited about this bill,” said Hall. SB 38 is in the Senate judiciary committee and could be voted on any day, he noted.
Hall also presented information on Senate Bill 54 and House Bill 155, bipartisan proposals to abolish the death penalty.
“The U.S. bishops have been pushing for the abolition of the death penalty for a long, long time,” said Hall. “We’re getting there.”
The CCK is also supporting Senate Bill 107, which would abolish the death penalty in Kentucky for individuals who are severely mentally ill.
Ed Harpring, pro-life coordinator for the Archdiocese of Louisville, attended the event and said he learned a few things.
He knew about some of the Catholic issues “from afar,” he said, but the expertise of the speakers served him well. “It allowed me to feel educated when I got in front of the representatives,” said Harpring, who met with lawmakers after the presentations.
Patsy Meyer and John Gross, members of St. John Paul II Church, said they’ve been attending the Catholics @ the Capitol event for years.
Meyer said, “It’s a very special day to join with Catholics across the state and talk about the issues that mean something to us and meet our legislators.”
She added that in the future, she’d like to see more young adults and youth take part.
Gross said, “It’s important that we follow the social justice charge the church has set and take a stand on these issues for the working class people of Kentucky.”
Father Patrick Delahanty contributed to this story.