Catholic Spirit: Legislative Update – Education, Safety Net, Abortion Among Key Issues

(by Jason Adkins)
March 14, 2012

The legislative session is set to end on April 30, and the deadline for bills to be heard in committee is fast approaching. Legislators are eager to pass a bonding bill, work out the details of a Vikings stadium, and head home to hit the campaign trail.

There are, however, other important pieces of legislation that the Minnesota Catholic Conference is monitoring and either supporting or opposing. Here is a brief overview of some of the key issues:

Educational opportunity

MCC supports a package of legislation designed to expand choice in education by allowing parents to choose the school that best serves their child’s needs.

S.F. 388 (Nienow) does three things: It (1) expands the existing lineup for tax credits for parents whose children attend non-public schools; (2) creates new tax credits for individuals and organizations who give to organizations that provide scholarships for students to attend non-public schools; and (3) also creates enrollment options scholarships (vouchers) for students to escape underperforming schools. It has passed the Education Committee, and is now in Taxes.

Individual bills on each provision of S.F. 388 are also working their way through the legislative process. The enrollment options scholarship bill (H.F. 273 —Woodard) is currently being reviewed by the House Education Finance Committee. The Equity and Opportunity in Education Tax Credit (individual and corporate tax credit) (S.F. 641 — Senjem/H.F. 1059 — Loon) awaits committee hearings in both houses. The tax credit expansion (S.F. 764 — Kruse/H.F. 1293 — Loon) also awaits hearings.

Safety net

MCC opposes H.F. 2080 (Daudt), which would make cuts to services provided by the Minnesota Family Investment Program. MFIP is an assistance program designed to provide benefits to families with children.

MCC believes the bill could place significant burdens on Minnesota families and drive them deeper into poverty. The bill also moves away from recommendations made by the bi-partisan Poverty Commission.

Among the most troubling changes is the reduction in lifetime benefits from 60 months to 36 months. Another modification would eliminate benefits when a family reaches 100 percent of the federal poverty level, rather than the 115 percent under current law. These changes are not wise in difficult economic times, will make it more challenging to climb the ladder out of poverty, and will have the most impact on children, who receive approximately 70 percent of MFIP benefits.

The bill has passed the House Health and Human Services Reform Committee and was to be heard by the Health and Human Services Finance Committee on March 13.

Abortion

Two pieces of abortion-related legislation could significantly ensure women’s safety when procuring an abortion, and deserve support.

The first (S.F. 1921 — Robling/H.F. 2340 — Holberg) would impose a system of licensing and inspections on abortion clinics. The provisions of this bill will protect the lives and health of Minnesota women by ensuring that abortion providers meet minimum health and safety requirements.

The bill has passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and was to be heard in Judiciary on March 13. It awaits a hearing in the House Human Services Reform committee.

The second bill (S.F. 1912 — Gazelka/H.F. 2341 — Peppin) would ban “webcam abortions.”

Planned Parenthood recently admitted to doing “webcam abortions” in Rochester. In this dangerous procedure, an abortionist administers the deadly RU486 abortion drug remotely, using a closed-circuit connection from St. Paul. To ensure that women’s safety comes before profit, webcam abortions ought to be prohibited.

The bill has passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and now sits in Judiciary. It awaits a hearing in the House Human Services Reform Committee.

Health care

The Catholic Church and Catholic health care providers have long advocated for health care reform that promotes access, quality and affordability. Instituting a state-level health insurance exchange as required by the federal Affordable Care Act could provide a true market to help Minnesotans afford and purchase health care coverage.

MCC and the Catholic Health Association believe a state-level exchange, rather than one imposed by the federal government, would best serve the needs of Minnesotans by capitalizing on Minnesota’s long tradition of health care innovation and excellence. Therefore, we have jointly encouraged legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton to work together to create an exchange.

Minnesota should implement an exchange that respects the principle that true health care and medical ethics uphold the sanctity of life from conception through natural death. Creating a state exchange enhances the possibility that abortion coverage will be excluded from insurance coverage except as an add-on rider, and at the same time could help protect people from cost-saving measures incurred during end-of-life care.

For more information and an update on the status of these bills, please visit the House and Senate home pages. For action alerts that allow you to receive key updates and email your legislator directly, be sure to join the Minnesota Catholic Advocacy Network (MNCAN), which can be found at http://capwiz.com/mncc/mlm/signup.

Jason Adkins is executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.