Catholic social teaching espouses a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable. In the public policy context, this means that policies should first be evaluated based on how they will affect those most in distress (Mt 25). It also means that addressing the needs of the poor and vulnerable should be one of the most important priorities in the legislative process, at whatever level of government.
To expand its anti-poverty advocacy, the Minnesota Catholic Conference has for decades joined the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, the Islamic Center of Minnesota and the Minnesota Council of Churches in sponsoring the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition (JRLC). Guided by God’s vision of the common good as reflected in Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions, the JRLC mobilizes religious communities to influence public policy in Minnesota. Despite our differences, the JRLC tries to embody the importance of building common ground for the common good, as well as promoting civility in public discourse.
The JRLC had some important legislative successes during the 2023 session.
The Sacred Settlements bill, which passed, provides a list of inspection and permitting guidelines for congregations that want to house chronically homeless people in tiny homes on their property. After three long years of advocacy, this bill is now law.
The JRLC became a champion of this bill when a pioneering Nazarene congregation in St. Paul offering these “tiny homes” brought it to the group’s attention, and it was clear that this religious liberty matter had to be resolved so that people of faith could be free to serve those most in need.
The JRLC sponsors are hopeful that more congregations will consider using the Sacred Settlements model to house their chronically homeless neighbors, and that more people will find supportive communities and permanent housing.
The proposed expansion of online sports betting did not pass this session. The JRLC has long opposed gambling expansion due to the harm it would cause low-income families and individuals dealing with gambling addiction, as well as its impact on young people prone to developing compulsive gambling behaviors.
The JRLC’s efforts concentrated on ensuring that any proposal discussed included extensive safeguards to mitigate potential harm. Most of those safeguards are present in the House and Senate versions of the bill. This work to mitigate the harms of putting online casinos on cellphones will continue into the 2024 session.
Emergency shelter capacity
After a last-minute push to persuade the governor and Senate to adopt the House proposal of $150 million in emergency shelter funding, $137.53 million in emergency shelter funding was included as cash appropriations in the Capital Investment Bill. JRLC put together a letter of support as part of a significant effort by homelessness advocates to secure this funding. JRLC’s interfaith letter included signatures from 66 clergy, and among them were several of our state’s bishops. Expanding shelter capacity will help build out resources and beds ahead of this upcoming winter.