School choice, assisted suicide, affordable housing among MCC priorities

SPECIAL REPORT: 2020 STATE LEGISLATIVE SESSION

The 2020 Minnesota legislative session begins Feb. 11 in St. Paul, and a host of issues awaits attention from state lawmakers. Among them: deciding what to do with the state’s approximately $1.3 billion budget surplus, crafting a bonding bill and addressing management issues at the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

One of the challenges will be finding enough common ground between the Democratic House majority and Republican Senate majority to pass legislation and get it signed by Gov. Tim Walz.

Jason Adkins is executive director and general counsel for the Minnesota Catholic Conference. (Dianne Towalski/The Central Minnesota Catholic)

The Minnesota Catholic Conference, the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in the state, has several issues of its own on which it plans to focus this session.

“It’s sometimes difficult to know in advance which issues will gain traction in any legislative session,” said Jason Adkins, MCC executive director and general counsel, during an interview in mid-January. “We’re the only state in the country to have a divided Legislature. It could be really difficult to get a lot of things done, especially as parties posture for election season. A lot of our work this year at the Capitol is going to focus on education regarding issues that remain of continuing concern.”

These issues include:

SCHOOL-CHOICE AND COUNSELING SERVICES: “If there is a tax bill, we hope that some school-choice proposals will be included in that,” Adkins said. Helping children and their families to access schools that best serve their needs is an MCC priority in light of ongoing gaps in achievement and opportunity in the state.

MCC also supports expanding non-public pupil aid for counseling services. “We know mental health interventions are more and more necessary at younger ages,” Adkins said. “The current funding provides counseling money for secondary school but not grade school, so we want to make sure that there’s counseling money available at the primary school level as well.”

PHYSICIAN-ASSISTED SUICIDE: MCC continues to oppose efforts to legalize physician-assisted suicide.

IMMIGRANT DRIVER’S LICENSES: MCC supports efforts for comprehensive immigration reform. Until it is achieved, it supports provisional driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants as a way to help immigrant families to meet basic needs and keep roads safe for everyone.

COMMERCIAL GESTATIONAL SURROGACY: MCC continues to oppose all forms of surrogacy and will work to prohibit commercial surrogacy arrangements in which the surrogates and their brokers would receive compensation.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING: On Jan. 9, Gov. Walz unveiled part of his bonding proposal, which includes about $270 million for affordable housing projects, including new infrastructure and rehabilitation of current housing. The amount the Legislature will approve will likely be less than the governor’s proposal, but the issue is an important one that needs attention, Adkins said.

“Especially with the housing crunch here in Minnesota and the lack of affordable housing, that’s going to be a really big issue this session,” said Adkins, noting that MCC will co-sponsor the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless Day on the Hill on March 11 (see below).

RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA: This year’s legislative session may see a push to legalize recreational marijuana in Minnesota. MCC opposes such efforts, arguing it would have the largest negative impact on the state’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

CLEAN WATER AND CLEAN ENERGY: “We need to keep looking at clean water infrastructure and clean water projects for bonding, too — it’s something we’ll be paying attention to this year,” Adkins said.

Additionally, “The governor and Democrats will be advocating for clean energy proposals,” Adkins noted. “Republicans will be holding hearings on some alternatives as well. Expanding the broader base of support for clean energy and renewable energy is a great thing. We embrace an energy strategy that balances economic development and clean energy, much like Pope Francis talks about in ‘Laudato Si’” — his 2015 encyclical.

MCC also is hoping to start conversations on other topics with lawmakers during this year’s session, including “how to handle and address this ongoing cultural tsunami of gender identity ideology,” Adkins said.

“The University of Minnesota is adopting a mandatory pronouns policy — they’ve limited some of the punitive measures related to that, but it’s still a troubling development nevertheless,” he said. “The state through its poverty assistance programs is funding treatment for minors for gender and sex transition therapies. We’re seeing more males competing in female sports. I think, nationally, we’ll see a proliferation of bills in response to a growing number of cases related to parents losing custody or losing rights over their children who want to transition and courts that are emancipating children or denying parental rights for parents who want to stop their kids from transitioning. We’re looking at ways to address that situation and have conversations with legislators about it.”

While MCC works on a variety of issues, Adkins said, they are all connected with the overall goal of promoting human life, human dignity and the common good — part of the “integral ecology” that Pope Francis wrote about in “Laudato Si’”. MCC tries to help legislators see those connections.

“We have those conversations more often than you might think,” Adkins said. “[MCC] transcends that partisan divide. But then we have to explain why things are connected. As Pope Francis says in ‘Laudato Si’,’ everything is connected. If you’re concerned about the abortion issue, you’ve also got to be concerned about child development issues, maternal and child health at early stages of life, economic security, housing — all these different things. If we want to be a pro-family organization, then we have to talk about keeping families together — that’s what our immigration stance is all about. It’s rooted in that fundamental ethic.

“To the extent that I’m able to talk about integral ecology, I do so,” he added. “We’ve used terms in the past like ‘consistent ethic of life’ or ‘seamless garment’ or ‘Catholic social teaching.’ But I really think the ecology frame of reference is a helpful mental model for people. And that’s what Catholic social teaching is. It’s a mental model. It’s not a prescription of a particular set of answers to every question. It’s a mental model … for disciples to approach social questions of the day.”

Stay connected

The Catholic Advocacy Network (CAN) is an initiative of the Minnesota Catholic Conference. The non-partisan network — for which you can sign up at www.mncatholic.org — keeps Catholics updated via email on important legislative activity as well as other activities related to the Church’s social ministry and policy advocacy. It also offers tools for taking action on specific issues.

While CAN is a valuable tool, it shouldn’t replace personal contact with legislators, said MCC executive director Jason Adkins. “We need to be building relationships with our legislators all year round,” he said.

Upcoming events

  • CAPITOL 101

The Minnesota Catholic Conference is planning two “Capitol 101” events during the 2020 state legislative session. Both gatherings — on dates yet to be announced — will feature a morning of education in advocacy at the State Capitol in St. Paul. “101” participants will receive an overview of the legislative process, learn how to be faithful citizens and identify key issues on MCC’s legislative agenda. Participants also will be able to schedule time to meet with their legislators. Visit www.mncatholic.org for more information. MCC’s larger, every-other-year Catholics at the Capitol event will return in 2021.

  • MINNESOTA SECOND CHANCE COALITION DAY ON THE HILL

The Minnesota Second Chance coalition is sponsoring a Day on the Hill, featuring a rally and visits with legislators on Wednesday, Feb. 19 at the State Capitol. The coalition’s mission is to “advocate fair and responsible laws, policies, and practices . . . enabling individuals who have been involved in the criminal justice system to fully support themselves and contribute to their communities to their full potential.” It addresses fair hiring, housing, voting and sentencing practices. For more information, visit http://www.mnsecondchance.org.

  • MINNESOTA COALITION FOR THE HOMELESS DAY ON THE HILL

The Homeless Day on the Hill is 8 a.m. to 3 pm., Wednesday, March 11. The day features a program/advocacy training at Central Presbyterian Church in St. Paul and then visits with legislators at the State Capitol. For more information and to register (free), visit www.mnhomelesscoalition.org. Questions? Call Sumaya Hassan at 651-645-7332 or email sumaya@mnhomelesscoalition.org.

  • JOINT RELIGIOUS LEGISLATIVE COALITION DAY ON THE HILL
Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis

The annual Joint Religious Legislative Coalition’s Day on the Hill policy briefing and lobby event will be Wednesday, April 1, at the InterContinental Riverfront Hotel in St. Paul and the State Capitol. The keynote speaker is Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis. This year’s theme is “Serving the Common Good.” Cost: $50. The Minnesota Catholic Conference is one of the JRLC’s sponsoring members. For more information about the Day on the Hill or to register, visit https://jrlc.org. Questions? Call: 612-870-3670 or email: info@jrlc.org.

Author: Joe Towalski

Joe Towalski is the editor for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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