Every state legislative session presents its own challenges and opportunities, and the 2014 session was no different, said Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.
“We were pleased by the passage of some bills, particularly in the area of economic security,” he said. “But we were disappointed in the passage of other bills. Just like any session, it’s a mixed bag of positives and negatives.”
One of the biggest positives emerging from the session that ended May 16 was the growing participation of Catholics in the pews through the MCC’s Catholic Advocacy Network, an initiative that invites people to sign up online to receive updates on policy issues and information about how to take action on specific legislation.
The network currently numbers in the “tens of thousands” and complements MCC’s lobbying work at the Capitol, Adkins said.
“It was a really big component of our advocacy efforts this year,” assisting the MCC, for example, in its efforts to stop a bill that would have legalized surrogate birth contracts, he said.
“As I always tell people, it takes as few as 10 calls to a legislator to make a difference,” Adkins said. “On a number of issues, legislators were getting 30, 40, 50 emails, not including calls. It was a big boon to our efforts.”
What passed? What didn’t?
The MCC is the public policy voice of the state’s Catholic bishops. The following are among the bills it tracked this session and how they fared:
- Payday lending reforms: Payday lenders are businesses that offer short-term loans due on a borrower’s next payday. The loans are typically more expensive than other methods of borrowing and, if unpaid, can put borrowers in serious debt trouble. The MCC supported a proposal to create underwriting standards and cap the number of payday loans that a person could take from a payday lending institution.
“We’re very concerned about people in difficult economic circumstances, particularly in these challenging economic times, getting caught in that debt trap,” Adkins said. Different versions of the legislation passed the House and Senate and legislators failed to pass a final version before the session ended.
- Minimum wage increase/economic security issues: The MCC was supportive of an increase in the minimum wage, which legislators voted to increase to $8 an hour in August, then $8.50 in August 2015 and $9.50 in August 2016.
“Raising the minimum wage was one of the key recommendations of the bipartisan Legislative Commission to End Poverty, and it’s really exciting to see that recommendation come to fruition,” Adkins said. “A number of important pieces of research show the economic benefits the legislation will have for low-income families.”
The MCC is looking forward to continuing the conversation around religious liberty during the observance of the next Fortnight for Freedom set for June 21 to July 4.
“I’m delighted by this year’s theme: ‘freedom to serve,'” Adkins said. “It’s all about our ability to serve others in accord with human dignity and the Church’s teaching.” He encourages people to use MCC as a resource in their preparations for the observance (find out more at mncc.org).
The MCC will continue its education efforts around a variety of issues including conscience protections, voter restoration, educational choice, and surrogacy ahead of next year’s legislative session.
The conference also will pursue efforts on the pro-life front. “We’re exploring a couple of different pieces of legislation outside of just banning abortion that we believe could help advance the culture of life,” Adkins said. Details about the efforts are forthcoming.