(by Joe Towalski)
May 22, 2015
Other legislation supported by Minnesota Catholic Conference didn’t fare as well during 2015 state legislative session
Thanks to the work of the Minnesota Catholic Conference and a coalition of disability advocacy groups, expectant parents whose babies are diagnosed with certain prenatal conditions will receive accurate and supportive information from local and national organizations.
Gov. Mark Dayton signed the Prenatal Trisomy Diagnosis Awareness Act on May 14. The legislation covers diagnoses for three chromosomal conditions: Trisomy 13 (Patau syndrome), Trisomy 18 (Edwards syndrome) and Trisomy 21 (Down syndrome). It was supported by groups such as Prenatal Partners for Life, Down Syndrome Association of Minnesota and The Arc of Minnesota.
“We’re very proud of that legislation — the seventh of its kind in the country, but the first to include requirements for passing on information to expectant parents about Trisomy 13 and Trisomy 18,” said Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of the state’s bishops. “It had bipartisan support and passed overwhelmingly in the House and Senate.”
“Oftentimes, people are told information, even by doctors, about short life expectancies and low-quality of life in these cases,” Adkins said at the start of the session explaining the need for such legislation. “But, in fact, these lives can be beautiful lives that are a great gift to families and others. We want to make sure that people who receive these diagnoses aren’t overly discouraged, that they have the accurate information they need to deal with these difficult situations.”
Two other potential pro-life gains supported by the MCC were included in the final Health and Human Services omnibus bill, which the governor had not yet signed as of May 20.
One would increase funding for the Positive Alternatives and Safe Place for Newborns programs. Positive Alternatives supports and assists women to carry their pregnancies to term, while Safe Place for Newborns allows a mother or someone acting with her permission to safely surrender her unharmed infant, born within the past seven days, to a designated safe place.
Another provision of the bill would strengthen the Born Alive Infant Protection Act for children who survive abortion procedures.
Other MCC-supported legislation, however, failed to garner the necessary support before lawmakers wrapped up the Minnesota Legislature’s 2015 regular session May 18. And there’s not much chance the proposals would get a hearing during a special session focused on education spending that is likely to be scheduled in the next few weeks.
Partisan politics shaped too many of the debates, Adkins said, adding that “the session started out promising, but ended rather poorly — and not just for some of our legislative priorities, but for a lot of folks.”
Legislative initiatives that failed to become law this session included:
Giving parents more choice in education
One bill would have allowed individuals and organizations to receive a tax credit for donating to scholarship-granting organizations. A second bill would have extended the existing K-12 education credit to private school tuition and increase the income level that would qualify for it.
Another bill creating education savings accounts for children with disabilities “picked up some momentum” during the session, but came too late for passage this year, Adkins said. The bill’s prospects are good to progress further next year, he said.
Creating a legislative surrogacy commission
This proposal would have formed a commission to study the issue of commercial surrogacy and its impact on children, women and society in light of efforts in the state to legalize surrogate birth contracts and allow Minnesota to enter the global surrogacy market.
“The surrogacy commission was part of the final negotiation in the state government finance omnibus bill,” Adkins said. “It passed the House, and it passed the state and local government committee in the Senate. Unfortunately, it was negotiated out of the final bill. We’re extremely disappointed about that, but we’ll continue to advocate for it, and it will be a top priority in 2016.”
Restoring voting rights to ex-offenders
A provision to restore voting rights to Minnesotans with past felony convictions but who are no longer incarcerated became part of an omnibus bill in the Senate but was not heard by the House.
“We’re disappointed by that,” Adkins said. “Seventy-two organizations signed on in support of the bill. It’s an issue we’ll have to keep talking about and telling the stories of those who are coming out of an incarceration context and trying to reintegrate into the community.”
Allowing undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria to obtain a provisional driver’s license
This proposal also was part of an omnibus Senate bill but was rejected by the House.
“This legislation made it further than we expected this year, and that conversation will continue,” Adkins said. “It’s an important issue that helps the well-being of immigrants and their families but also has an obvious benefit for all Minnesotans by fostering safe roads.”
Increasing cash assistance for low-income families through the Minnesota Family Investment Program
“This proposal was not included in the final HHS omnibus bill, although there were some very positive provisions in the bill concerning housing and homelessness assistance,” Adkins said.
The defeat of an attempt to repeal MinnesotaCare and replace it with another program also was good news for low-income Minnesotans who rely on the program for their health insurance, Adkins said. The MCC partnered with the Catholic Health Association of Minnesota to oppose the effort.
“We were concerned this would increase premiums and lead to less quality,” he said. “Fortunately, the proposal was shelved.”
Despite the challenges of this year’s legislative session, “we were delighted by the fact that we were able to pass legislation like the Trisomy bill with broad bipartisan support,” Adkins said.
“All of our bills, except for some of the education bills, had a DFL Senate lead author and Republican House lead author,” he said. “That was really encouraging. One of the great opportunities the Church has in the public policy arena is to build bridges across ideological and partisan lines to foster the common good. We had some significant accomplishments in that area this year.”