Every legislative session presents both opportunities and challenges, says Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.
As the Minnesota Legislature convened Jan. 8, the head of the public policy voice of the state’s Catholic bishops said the MCC would be monitoring a variety of issues ranging from poverty relief and pro-life concerns to human trafficking and the creation of the state’s health care exchange.
Also on its radar: attempts to change state law to redefine marriage following last November’s defeat of an amendment to the state constitution seeking to preserve the definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
In a Jan. 10 interview with The Catholic Spirit, Adkins highlighted several policy areas the MCC will focus on this legislative session:
The MCC will work to help enact some of the recommendations of the Legislative Commission to End Poverty by 2020, including efforts to raise the minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 per hour.
“We support an increase in the minimum wage, particularly for employees of larger businesses,” Adkins said.
The MCC doesn’t “take a particular position on where that wage should be calibrated — what the right number is,” he said. “But we do think it is appropriate that, at the very least, the minimum wage account for cost-of-living adjustments and inflation that have happened since the last adjustment in 2005.”
The MCC will work to defeat proposals that would attempt to legally redefine the institution of marriage, Adkins said.
“The marriage amendment opposition sold a ‘no’ vote on the principle that [marriage between one man and one woman] was already law in our state,” he said. “They said we didn’t need to put this into the constitution. We said that was [wrong], and that an effort to change our laws would begin as early as this year. Indeed that has come to pass.”
Proposals to redefine marriage could move ahead in the coming weeks and perhaps as early as the first part of February, Adkins said.
“We need to be prepared as Catholics to call our legislators and let them know that a no vote on the marriage amendment didn’t necessarily mean that Minnesotans wanted marriage redefined for everyone,” he said, “and that, at the same time, our laws should promote the proper place for human sexuality, procreation, and child rearing, which is the union of a man and a woman in marriage.”
Outside the Legislature, the MCC is working with Minnesota dioceses on efforts to “strengthen marriage from a holistic perspective” through various marriage enrichment and education initiatives. It is also working with other faith communities on potential “marriage summits” at which Christian leaders would come together in support of marriage.
In 2011, the Legislature passed a “safe harbor” law to assist human trafficking victims, particularly exploited youth, to help them escape abusive situations. This year the MCC will advocate for funding to help create a statewide services network to assist victims with housing and other needs.
Health insurance exchange
The MCC is monitoring the creation of a state health insurance exchange — an online marketplace in which Minnesotans would purchase private health insurance or enroll in public programs. As part of the federal health care overhaul, if Minnesota doesn’t create its own health insurance exchange, the federal government will impose one.
“Our position is that all Minnesotans should have access to affordable health care regardless of their ability to pay,” Adkins said, while ensuring that coverage for services objectionable from a Catholic moral standpoint are not included in the coverage.
Last week, legislators introduced a bill that provides for a seven-person board to oversee the exchange. Adkins said the MCC will monitor who is appointed to the board and the principles they apply to the governance of the exchange.
The results of last fall’s election from a pro-life perspective were mixed, Adkins said. While he doesn’t foresee a serious expansion of abortion laws this session, there likely won’t be major pro-life gains either. Still, the MCC will be active on the pro-life front.
“We’re looking at making sure that nothing that harms the sanctity of life passes, but at the same time we will work to protect existing programs such as Positive Alternatives, which is a very important program for women in crisis pregnancies,” Adkins said. “We want to make sure that the funding for that is maintained, especially when legislators are looking for places to cut” in light of the state’s budget deficit.
Positive Alternatives is a program that makes available about $2.4 million annually for alternatives to abortion, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. The program’s goal is to support and assist women to carry their babies to term and care for them after birth.
The MCC continues to support efforts to expand parental-choice in education, Adkins said.
“While we’re not hopeful that something like a school voucher program is going to be passed in this legislative session, we do think based on bipartisan support for various tax-credit programs in the past that there’s a possibility some modest but important tax-credit proposals could get through this Legislature,” he said.
Adkins said the MCC is supportive of efforts to combat bullying in schools, but would not support legislative initiatives that take away the rights of Catholic parents and Catholic schools to teach children values regarding human sexuality that are fundamental to the faith.
At federal level, the time is right for immigration reform
In addition to its efforts at the Minnesota Legislature, the Minnesota Catholic Conference will be working collaboratively with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in support of several initiatives.
- Immigration reform: “Right now, this is among the issues on the top of MCC’s list in terms of advocacy priorities,” Adkins said. “This is the best year we’ve had in a long time to actually accomplish comprehensive immigration reform and provide a just fix to our broken immigration system.”
The Minnesota bishops outlined their vision for such reform in their 2012 letter “Unlocking the Gate of our Hearts,” which said a comprehensive approach would include an earned legalization program for foreign nationals of good moral character, policies designed to keep families together and an effort to meaningfully address the root causes of migration.
- HHS mandate: “We hope to be able to convince Congress to take action to repeal the HHS mandate,” Adkins said. “If legislative efforts aren’t successful though, we are working in the courts. There are a number of Catholic institutions and businesses that have filed lawsuits seeking to challenge the HHS mandate.”
“I think those lawsuits, particularly ones filed by Catholic institutions, have a strong likelihood of success,” he added. “And, if they continue to see successes in the courts, hopefully the president will relent and reverse this unwise and unjust policy.”
- Gun control: “I think a common sense re-evaluation and re-examination of our gun laws in Minnesota is warranted,” Adkins said. “And, at the federal level, it’s certainly appropriate to reinstate the assault-weapons ban that was allowed to expire some years ago.”