The 2021 state legislative session begins Jan. 5 in St. Paul. A main focus for lawmakers will be providing relief and assistance to help Minnesotans with the ongoing challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, especially its impact on jobs and housing.
“There are people facing evictions if some of the eviction protections are lifted. Landlords are certainly facing the crunch. Small businesses are also facing the crunch,” said Jason Adkins, executive director of Minnesota Catholic Conference. “So, everyone is obviously struggling, and the challenge is how to meet those needs and provide the right forms of assistance with the reality that the resources to do so are extremely limited.”
Thankfully, the preliminary economic picture looks better than it did in May, he said. An early December budget forecast showed a surplus of $640 million for the last six months of the current budget biennium, which ends June 30. However, there will be a projected budget shortfall of about $1.3 billion for the 2022-2023 biennium. The state currently has about a $2.5 billion budget reserve it could draw upon.
“We hope that the right forms of assistance will be distributed and without a lot of cuts,” Adkins said. “That’s going to be the main topic that animates a lot of the legislative discussions during 2021” as legislators tackle the creation of the next two-year state budget.
As the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Minnesota, Adkins said MCC recognizes that budgets “are moral documents that demonstrate our priorities as a community, and we’re certainly monitoring those discussions and trying to offer a framework in which those challenges are met.”
There will likely be a push to find alternative sources of revenue to minimize any budget cuts, and this could include attempts to legalize recreational marijuana and expand gambling.
“Although there very well could be a need for additional revenue … this is the wrong way to go about it,” he said. “It would legalize and/or expand something that [promotes] a harmful social dynamic. It should not be used to plug holes in the budget because it’s going to create longer-term costs down the road.”
Education is an area that has faced a variety of challenges during the pandemic. Catholic schools have done “extraordinary work” to create safe environments for learning even as they have experienced financial challenges wrought by the pandemic, Adkins said. Therefore, any COVID-related assistance that state lawmakers earmark for education should include Catholic and other private schools, he said.
“We’ve all shared in the public health challenges, so we should all share in the relief that’s dedicated to education when governments create relief packages,” he said. “Whether that’s at the federal level with the CARES Act or for ongoing discussions related to COVID relief that has an education focus, we believe that those funds should be directed in a per-pupil way that treats non-public school students equitably.”
The pandemic also has highlighted the need to reform how services, such as transportation and counseling services, are provided to private schools, Adkins said. State law provides for such services to be provided to private school students at the same level as public school students. But when public schools opt for distance learning, private school students may lose their transportation and only have access to counseling services remotely, if at all.
“There are some opportunities for fixes on a lot of the non-public pupil aid programs that could be really, really helpful,” Adkins said.
MCC strives to put a “circle of protection” around programs that help the poor and vulnerable, he said. “The vast majority of the state budget is consumed by education and human services. Those are the places that people often look to for cuts, but those areas speak to the deepest needs of Minnesotans. When we talk about investing in our people and investing in our future, those are our cornerstone expenditures. So MCC identifies key policies that impact the poor and vulnerable and works to strengthen those through reforms, especially in times of need.”
Among the other issues MCC will be monitoring during the 2021 legislative session:
• Physician-assisted suicide: MCC continues to oppose efforts to legalize physician-assisted suicide. Compassion & Choices, a national organizationthat is a proponent of assisted suicide, has identified Minnesota as one of its priority states, Adkins said. While MCC believes there is enough support in the Legislature to prevent an assisted suicide bill from passing, Minnesota Catholics must remain vigilant.
“It remains a preeminent pro-life priority in terms of MCC’s legislative agenda and we’re excited to be part of the Minnesota Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, which is now at 60 members and continues to grow,” he said. “And there’s a lot of engagement and activism taking place to make sure that Minnesota is a state that improves its methods of care and doesn’t hasten death.”
• Driver’s licenses for undocumented persons: In the absence of comprehensive immigration reform that protects human dignity and the common good, MCC continues to support provisional driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants as a way to help immigrant families to meet basic needs and keep Minnesota roads safe.
“We’re concerned about keeping families together and immigrant driver’s licenses are an important step that we can take at the state level to ensure that families are in fact kept together and have some of the access to a basic privilege that allows them to function in the broader society,” Adkins said.
• School choice: 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, Adkins said. MCC is part of the coalition Opportunity for All Kids, a statewide advocacy organization that works “to ensure that children in Minnesota have access to an education that will help them thrive.”
GETTING INVOLVED THIS SESSION
MCC will hold its third Catholics at the Capitol event April 15 at the Cathedral of St. Paul and State Capitol. The day will include prayer, speakers, education, advocacy training and opportunities to meet with local legislators (see sidebar).
The event, previously held in 2017 and 2019, “has been extraordinarily successful in terms of bringing people to the Capitol and giving them a tangible experience of what it means to be a faithful citizen by building relationships with legislators and advocating for issues that protect human dignity and promote the common good,” Adkins said.
“Many people who’ve attended Catholics at the Capitol had never before entered the Capitol or talked to their legislator,” he added. “To give them that opportunity is just extraordinary. The legislators love to hear from constituents. They need the input of citizens about what is important and what should be a priority in the legislative process.”
Catholics at the Capitol:
On Mission for Life & Dignity
Join Catholics from across Minnesota for a day of prayer, education, and advocacy from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Thursday, April 15. The event, organized by Minnesota Catholic Conference, will form attendees in the faith – beginning with Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul. Featured speakers are Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Obianuju Ekeocha, a pro-life advocate and founder of Culture of Life Africa. Attendees will be informed on issues impacting life and dignity in the state and learn
how to effectively speak with their legislators as a missionary disciple. In the afternoon, participants will be sent on mission with a eucharistic procession from the Cathedral to the Capitol before meeting with local legislators. The rosary will be prayed in the Capitol rotunda on the half hour in the afternoon. MCC has plans in place if programming needs to be altered due to COVID-19. Cost: $15 ($20 after Jan. 31). For more information or to register, visit www.catholicsatthecapitol.org. Questions? Call: 651-227-8777 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 — alerts Catholics via email and/or text to important state and federal legislative activity about which they can contact lawmakers with a single click. MCC also sends e-newsletters with ways to learn about the Church’s social ministry as well as advocating for life, dignity and the common good.
MCC’s podcast “Bridge Builder: Catholic Faith and Politics” features interviews with guests to help Catholics stay informed on timely issues and learn to live out faithful citizenship. Listeners can also submit questions about faith and politics for the mailbag segment – send them to show@ mncatholic.org. Episodes also feature a “bricklayer” action item that gives listeners practical tips to build the bridge between faith and politics. Listen to current and past episodes at: www.mncatholic.org/ podcasts.