Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz along with Kentucky’s three other bishops applauded the decision of the Kentucky legislature to override the governor’s veto of House Bill 563.
“We applaud the Kentucky legislature for the passage of House Bill 563. The legislation provides more opportunities for parents with limited financial means to decide where their children will best thrive, whether in public or non-public schools,” said the bishops in a statement released March 30 through the Catholic Conference of Kentucky. “And, because of other forms of assistance in HB 563 that benefit children in public and non-public schools, it will serve students in need throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”
The CCK, which represents the bishops in matters of public policy, also welcomed the passage of House Bill 91, a measure that aims to amend Kentucky’s constitution to clarify there is no right to abortion.
The education bill was passed by the House of Representatives in a 48-47 vote on March 16, but was vetoed by Gov. Andy Beshear last week. The House voted March 29 to override the governor’s veto. House Bill 563 is now a law and goes into effect later this year.
Andrew Vandiver, associate director of the CCK, said, “The state has to take action to put regulations into place. We believe we will be able to start helping students this year, with it ramping up next year.”
The CCK plans to host events across the state to let families know how they can benefit, he noted.
The bill creates an Education Opportunity Accounts (EOA) program. Individuals and businesses would receive a tax credit for donating to certain nonprofits, such as the Catholic Education Foundation said, Vandiver. These non-profits would use the funds to help families pay for education services.
Families state-wide can receive assistance to pay for services such as therapy for special needs children and technology. The bill also gives families who live in counties with a population larger than 90,000 access to need-based tuition assistance for non-public schools.
“House Bill 563 is a wonderful program. It will do a lot for thousands of students,” said Vandiver.
“We would have liked for it to include every county. It will be a top priority” moving forward to ensure every family who desires a non-public school education and has need receives tuition assistance, he added.
Vandiver said the CCK views passage of this bill “as the beginning and not the end to bring school choice to Kentucky. We have a lot of work to do to make sure everyone is included.”
The bill will allow for tuition assistance at non-public schools in Jefferson, Fayette, Kenton, Boone, Campbell, Hardin, Warren and Daviess counties.
The bishops said in their statement, “There are countless stories of students whose lives have been changed for the better by the simple act of giving them the same choices already enjoyed by wealthy families. We are very grateful that Kentucky families in need now have more opportunities to benefit because of House Bill 563.”
House Bill 91 was passed by the Senate March 30.
The bill aims to amend Kentucky’s constitution, clarifying there’s no right to an abortion. The amendment will now be on the ballot in November 2022 for voters to decide, said Jason Hall, executive director of the CCK.
Passage of this bill is “very significant” in light of the pro-life bills passed in recent years, he said.
“We are grateful the General Assembly saw the importance of this amendment. We have passed so many important pro-life laws in recent years, and House Bill 91, if approved by the voters next year, will ensure that Kentucky’s courts will not strike down those laws,” said Hall.
The CCK will spend the remainder of this year and part of 2022 “educating folks and preparing a campaign to make sure this is approved by voters,” said Hall.
Ed Harpring, coordinator of pro-life ministries for the Archdiocese of Louisville, said the passage of House Bill 91 is a “positive and monumental step.”
Harping was present at a rally at the Kentucky Capitol Building March 29 in support of the bill. “That’s wonderful. It’s what we were waiting for,” he said.
Harpring noted that this is a first step in a series.
“While we’re excited, being people of hope and faith” there’s still a long way to go, he said. “It’s a positive step overall. It puts it back in the mindset of the citizens of Kentucky to think we can have an abortion-free state,” he said. “If you don’t take this step, some states have taken a step in the other direction. We’re trying to get ahead of the curve.”
Six measures pertaining to criminal justice reform, which the CCK supports — including House Bill 126 and Senate Bill 84 — also received passage, said Hall.
House Bill 126 increases the felony theft and fraud threshold from $500 to $1000 and creates a class B misdemeanor level for these offenses.
Senate Bill 84 ensures that pregnant women who are incarcerated receive access to critical resources and have safe and healthy pregnancies.
“This is one of the most productive and successful sessions we’ve had in a long time,” said, Hall. “It’s very encouraging.”