As Minnesota legislators debate bills this session ranging from redefining marriage to increasing the minimum wage, the Minnesota Catholic Conference is encouraging Catholics around the state to get involved in promoting public policies that advance human dignity and promote the common good.
“One of the challenges a lot of people have with the political process is that they don’t feel like they have a voice or an opportunity to make their voice heard,” said Jason Adkins, the MCC’s executive director.
“What we’re trying to do at the Catholic Conference is develop ways through our website and other tools to make it easier for Catholics to make their voices heard in the public arena,” he said.
Those efforts — all of which can be accessed from the MCC’s website at www.mncatholic.org — include the MN Catholic Advocacy Network, in which people sign up to receive updates on policy issues and information about action opportunities regarding specific legislation. An “Action Center” link on the website features a list of recent action alerts.
The website includes a “Bills” link under “Legislation” that allows people to track a list of current bills on which the state’s bishops have taken a formal position. It also offers information about Catholic social teaching and background on a variety of public policy issues.
“We want to provide Catholics the opportunity to buttress [the MCC’s] advocacy efforts on those pieces of legislation and let legislators know either that they’re thankful for their work on an issue or to encourage them to get behind a particular issue,” Adkins said.
“As few as 10 phone calls to a legislator on a particular issue can really make a significant difference,” he said.
In a March 8 interview with The Catholic Spirit, Adkins highlighted several issues the MCC currently is tracking at the Minnesota Legislature:
MINIMUM WAGE Bills: SF 399, HF 430 — Family Economic Security Act Sponsor: Sen. David Tomassoni, Rep. Melissa Hortman MCC position: Support
The legislation would raise the minimum wage in Minnesota from $7.25 to $9.50 for large employers and $8.25 for small employers; provide child care subsidies for those at or below 300 percent of federal poverty guidelines; increase the Working Family Tax Credit and create a state version of the Child Tax Credit.
A full-time minimum wage worker in Minnesota currently makes about $15,000 per year. Currently, some 24 percent of Minnesota families are among the “working poor,” Adkins said.
“This increase in the minimum wage is overdue and is certainly a matter of economic justice because it recognizes the importance of helping low-income families make it through tough economic times,” he said. “It’s really a family-centered piece of legislation oriented toward establishing better economic security and creating a ladder out of poverty.”
MARRIAGE REDEFINITION Bills: SF 925, HF 1054 Sponsor: Sen. D. Scott Dibble, Rep. Karen Clark MCC position: Oppose
The bills would redefine marriage to allow two persons of the same-sex to marry. Both were scheduled to be heard in committees March 12 and, if passed, could move to a floor vote at any time, Adkins said.
“We’re encouraging people to continue to contact their legislators,” said Adkins, who added that he was encouraged by the turnout for the March 7 Minnesota March for Marriage rally at the State Capitol and a recent StarTribune Minnesota Poll that found 53 percent of Minnesotans don’t want state law changed regarding marriage.
“Minnesotans still strongly believe, despite the defeat of the amendment [last fall], that marriage is between a man and a woman and the law should be left alone,” he said. “We’ll see if the legislators listen.”
HUMAN TRAFFICKING Bills: SF 384, HF 485 — Safe Harbor/No Wrong Door Implementation bill Sponsors: Sen. Sandra Pappas, Rep. Susan Allen MCC position: Support
The bills follow passage of the Safe Harbor Act in 2011 and creates the social service infrastructure needed to help sexually exploited youth.
“It would continue to ensure that Minnesota stays a leader in the fight against human trafficking,” Adkins said. “Unfortunately, Minneapolis and St. Paul are among the metropolitan areas that have significant trouble with the human trafficking issue as identified by the Department of Justice.”
BULLYING Bills: SF 783, HF 826 — Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act Sponsors: Sen. D. Scott Dibble, Rep. Jim Davnie MCC position: Oppose
Adkins said the MCC takes a strong stand against bullying: “We abhor bullying. We think bullying is a tremendous problem and that it needs to be dealt with effectively by schools and particularly at the local level.”
Catholic schools “have the best anti-bullying program out there,” he added. “The best anti-bullying program is to say that every child is created in the image and likeness of God and should be treated with dignity and respect.”
The MCC is opposing these bills because they impose mandates and curriculum requirements on private schools, including Catholic schools, that violate constitutional guarantees of religious freedom.
It also has concerns that the bills usurp the authority of parents to teach their children in areas such as gender and sexuality. “We’re concerned that this legislation, by promoting values that we do not think serve human flourishing, would undermine parents’ roles as the first educators of their children,” Adkins said.