The Catholic Spirit: MCC: Families First finds foothold in legislative session, pro-life efforts continue

A central aspect of the 2023 Minnesota legislative session was determining the state’s budget for the next two years, including what to do with a large surplus that began emerging in 2020.

Now that the session has wrapped, here is a look at some of the key issues tackled, including perspective from staff of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops.


Measures to codify abortion in Minnesota moved quickly as the 2023 legislative session opened.

Pro-life and pro-abortion advocates gathered at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul various times throughout the session as debates took place in the Legislature. In January, as bills made their way through House and Senate hearings, Archbishop Bernard Hebda and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Williams of St. Paul and Minneapolis, along with Bishop Chad Zielinski of New Ulm and the state’s four other Catholic bishops, wrote a letter protesting the bills and had it hand-delivered to every lawmaker.

Archbishop Hebda also released a video and accompanying statement, urging people to reach their legislators to head off approval of abortion-related legislation. In the video, Archbishop Hebda called bill proposals “part of the most extreme abortion legislative agenda in Minnesota history.”

Bishop Zielinski — among those who testified against the legislation — said, in part, “The bill reflects a complete denial of the humanity of the unborn child, their right to live, and the state’s interest in protecting nascent human life.”


Civic life

This session, as in prior years, MCC backed a particular piece of voting legislation.

The proposal — passed by the Legislature and signed into state law by Walz March 3 — restores the right to vote to those convicted of felonies upon their completion of any term of incarceration imposed and executed by a court for the offenses.

“When people have paid their debts, we find there are collateral consequences for crimes that inhibit them from getting housing, access to certain forms of employment, rebuilding their life,” Adkins said. “So, when you pay your debt to society, which you should … then, how do we find ways to reintegrate people into political participation? … Giving people the opportunity for positive civic participation to play a role in society. One of the hallmarks of Catholic social teaching is the call to participation; how can we expect people to model and exhibit good behavior when we isolate them from some of the most very basic things of civic life in society?”


The Legislature took up a series of education proposals this session.

St. Paul-based advocacy organization Opportunity for All Kids, an MCC advocacy partner, backed legislation that would establish the creation of education savings accounts. The accounts would operate like Health Savings Accounts or Flexible Spending Accounts, to allow families to cover specifically education-related expenses, “including private-school tuition, tutoring, supplies, transportation, and extracurricular activities and individual classes at local public schools.” The provision was not included in the finalized K-12 spending bill that passed the Legislature May 17.

Relatedly, MCC and the Minnesota Nonpublic Education Partners coalition it co-leads voiced support of the Legislature continuing its support of alternate transportation options for nonpublic school students, established under the Safe Learning Plan during the COVID-19 pandemic. The provision passed the House and Senate and was included in the final legislation.

Nonpublic Education Partners also backed an expansion in nonpublic student counseling aid programs. MCC pushed for primary school inclusion “because mental health needs are increasing,” Adkins said. Ultimately, expanded funding was not included in the finalized bill.

Meanwhile, Walz recommended funding for a Building and Cyber Security Grant Program. The Legislature did allocate funding for the 2024 year, but it did not include nonpublic schools as MCC had asked.

Family life

MCC particularly advocated for direct economic relief to Minnesota families this session.

Adkins said he and MCC staff “were excited this session when legislators really sought to make Minnesota the best state to raise a family.”

Families First Project

As the session began, MCC introduced its Families First Project, an advocacy campaign MCC considered central to its efforts this session. The platform promotes policy that would help remove roadblocks Minnesotans confront in forming and raising their families.

The centerpiece of the Families First Project is the creation of a nation-leading state child tax credit, which was included in the tax bill. The legislation allocates $400 million per year in tax relief to lower-income families. Adkins said he considers it a major success of the session.

The Legislature passed the robust tax credit with “up to $1,750 per child and with no cap on the number of children who can benefit in a family,” Adkins said.

According to MCC, this per-child refundable tax credit was expected to reduce childhood poverty in the state by 25-30%. Its versions in the Legislature were targeted to assist low-income families and MCC encouraged its extension into Minnesota’s middle class.

“It’s a great thing to build on going forward,” Adkins said. He added he and the MCC staff “think it’s best to empower families directly with economic benefits and opportunity rather than having them go to a government program to benefit.”

“We are encouraged by the fact that what we proposed as the metric for how the budget should be measured — how it helps the family — was indeed embraced by Gov. Walz and legislators,” Adkins said. “Legislators are now asking what it means to make Minnesota the best state to raise a family. We may have disagreements about the particulars, but family economic security is now a key moral test of the budget.”

Additionally, Families First bill proposals would authorize the issuance of pregnancy-related disability parking certificates and exempt more baby products from sales tax. These provisions did not pass.


Gender ideology

The Legislature took up a series of proposals related to gender ideology this session — examples included a bill to prohibit counseling for minors who seek to address gender discordance, the so-called “conversion therapy ban”; a bill that would allow minors from other states to be brought to Minnesota to seek “gender-affirming health care” unavailable in other states due to law or custody orders; a Minnesota Constitution amendment that would countermand attempts for accommodations or exemptions for those who do not assent to gender theory; a bill proposing a new definition in the Minnesota Human Rights Act for gender identity; a “Gender-Affirming Rights Act” which asserts a person’s right to subjectively define gender existence; and a bill to require “gender-affirming care coverage,” including for medical and surgical interventions to manipulate the body.

In April, Walz signed into law the counseling ban and the “transgender refuge” legislation mentioned previously.

MCC spoke out against the pieces of legislation, arguing they cause harm and create confusion — particularly among young people — about the human experience and intrinsic identity.

The Church needs to be at the center of conversations about identity, Adkins said, “because we have a particular perspective that we think promotes human flourishing. … we’re the Church that helps people live the way in which they were created.”

He went on to state that “what’s troubling about legislation that enables children to receive, in some cases, permanent, life-altering therapies, hormones, even surgeries to conform to their subjective sense of their self … what they do is they inhibit one’s ability to form family; we’re made for relationship, we’re made for each other, we’re made for life.”


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