CCK sets priorities for 2021 legislative session

The pandemic has wrought changes in the 2021 session of the Kentucky General Assembly, but the Catholic Conference of Kentucky’s support for issues ranging from educational choice, respect for life and criminal justice reform hasn’t wavered.

The Catholic Conference of Kentucky represents the commonwealth’s four bishops in matters of public policy. The conference also educates Catholics about issues of concern to the church and encourages civic participation.

The CCK has already seen one cause for celebration this year in the passage of Senate Bill 9 — the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act. The measure has passed both chambers and has been sent to the governor. The bill requires the same standard of medical care for all infants born alive, including those born due to a failed abortion attempt.

Among the bishops’ priorities this year are House Bill 149 and Senate Bill 25 which aim to create an Education Opportunity Accounts (EOA) program. The program would provide financial assistance to families with children in kindergarten through grade 12 in private and public schools for educational expenses.

The EOA is similar to the scholarship tax credit which the CCK has supported in years past, but more expansive, said Andrew Vandiver, associate director of the CCK.

Individuals and businesses would receive a tax credit for donating to certain nonprofits, such as the Catholic Education Foundation, said Vandiver in a recent interview. These non-profits would then use the funds to help families with education services, including:

  • Tuition for Catholic school
  • Tutoring
  • Online classes
  • Therapy for students with special needs
  • School uniforms and textbooks
  • Fees for nationally standardized assessments and advanced placement exams

“It’s really all about allowing individuals to contribute directly to the education of students and helping customize that education to the students’ needs,” he said.

House Bill 149 and Senate Bill 25 take into account the response received from parents and policymakers last year, noted Vandiver.

“During the legislative session in 2020 we got some feedback about wanting the bill to be a little more expansive, and when COVID-19 hit there was just a real feeling that we should go in a direction that puts parents in the driver’s seat and helps them to customize the education to meet their child’s need,” he said.

There are 19 states, including Indiana, that have some type of privately-funded education choice program, noted Vandiver, but the EOA program is somewhat unique to Kentucky because of how many education services it includes.

“We really have an opportunity to do something new in Kentucky that takes some of the best practices of other states and puts it to work for our students,” said Vandiver.

It’s “incredibly important” for individuals to contact their legislators and show support for the bills this year, he said.

“This is a session unlike any other. Parents, guardians and anyone with children in the household need to make sure their voices are a part of that conversation,” said Vandiver. “We’ve all been hit hard by COVID-19 but students have really hit hard times as far as being able to learn and grow during this time of distance learning and disruption. The more we can do to get behind students and parents the better.”

Vandiver encourages individuals to call their state representative and senator and ask them to support and co-sponsor House Bill 149 and Senate Bill 25.

To learn more about the Education Opportunity Accounts program, visit www.edchoiceky.com/eoa.

Jason Hall, executive director of the CCK, said there are several other issues the bishops consider a priority this session. The CCK supports:

  • House Bill 91 — Hall said this bill is the CCK’s “major pro-life priority.” The bill aims to amend Kentucky’s constitution, “clarifying” there’s no right to an abortion.
  • Senate Bill 60 would abolish the death penalty in Kentucky.
  • House Bill 148 would prohibit the death penalty in cases where the individual has a severe mental illness. Senate Bill 60 and House Bill 148 are measures, Hall said, the CCK has supported for many years.
  • House Bill 126 seeks to increase the felony theft and fraud threshold from $500 to $1000 and create a class B misdemeanor level for these offenses.

Hall said there are several other bills pertaining to criminal justice reform that the CCK is following.

The 2021 General Assembly, which convened Jan. 5, recessed Jan. 13 and will resume in early February.

The CCK urges Catholics to put their faith into action by contacting their lawmakers — and asking them to support and co-sponsor these bills — by calling the legislative message line at 1-800-372-7181. An operator can send a message to the legislators based on the caller’s address.

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