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Back to School Blessings for Scholarship Students

IMG_5454Summer vacation is still in full swing, but thousands of students are celebrating the chance to go to a new school this fall. This week the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed what is called the School Code Bill enabling support for public schools to move forward and providing a $25 million increase in the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs. The $175 million total line items fund scholarships for parents to send their children to a school that best suits their needs. Tens of thousands of students are able to attend Catholic schools with EITC and OSTC scholarships.

Both the EITC and OSTC programs provide businesses with a tax credit for donating to nonprofit scholarship or educational improvement organizations. These groups grant scholarships to students giving parents the economic means to choose the learning environment they believe is best for their children.

Scholarships are awarded according to the scholarship organization’s criteria. Minimally, EITC scholarships go to families with an annual household income of $75,000 or less with an additional $12,750 allowance per student and each other dependent living in the same home. Each diocese has its own program criteria. OSTC scholarships are for students who live within the attendance boundaries of a low-achieving public school as determined by the Pennsylvania Department of Education are eligible to receive a scholarship if their household’s annual income is the same as the EITC program discussed above. However, it is targeted to students with the greatest need, so priority is given to families closest to the poverty line.

Tax credits are not deductions; they are an actual reduction in the tax liability of a business. A onetime donation to a K-12 scholarship program earns a 75% tax credit; a two-year commitment yields a 90% tax credit. A business contributing to a pre-kindergarten scholarship program receives a 100% tax credit for the first $10,000 and a 90% credit thereafter. To be eligible for a tax credit, a business must pay at least one of Pennsylvania’s business taxes.

Pennsylvania’s 2016-2017 state budget debate has been a difficult one, but fortunately for parents everywhere, EITC and OSTC scholarships will be a welcome blessing.

Statutes of Limitation Status Report

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives adjourned for the summer without taking further action on House Bill 1947. The initial bill passed by the House in April proposed to remove the criminal statute of limitations (SoL) for childhood sexual abuse, raise the civil SoL from age 30 to 50, and allow lawsuits against public institutions moving forward.  It also would have retroactively extended the civil SoL from survivor’s age 30 to age 50, but only against private institutions like churches and non-profit organizations.

In June, the state Senate stripped out the provision that would have retroactively nullified the civil statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse cases from decades ago. The Senate cited conflicts with Pennsylvania’s state constitution as the reason for the change. They also amended the bill to prospectively allow abuse survivors up to age 50 to sue either public or private entities under an equal standard of proof, and allow survivors to sue in certain cases beyond age 50. The bill maintains the prospective elimination of the criminal statute of limitations.

Because the bill was amended in the Senate, it must be ratified by the House before going to the governor for his signature.  The House can concur with the amended bill with an up/down vote, amend it again which would send it back to the Senate, or choose not to consider it, letting the legislation expire at the end of the session. It now awaits approval to proceed from the House Rules Committee.

The debate over statutes of limitations has been emotionally-charged and difficult for many, but it may be particularly painful for survivors of abuse. As we discuss the issue in the public square, we must all remember to stress that help is available to them. All 10 Pennsylvania dioceses financially cover the expenses of counseling or treatment services offered through local resources, including those not affiliated with the Church.  Anyone who is abused should immediately contact law enforcement and anyone who is struggling should contact their county’s crime victim support services office and/or the diocese to obtain the necessary help, or a group like www.MaleSurvivor.org  www.1in6.org, www.rainn.org, and others.

No matter the final resolution with the legislation, the Catholic Church will honor its sincere commitment to the emotional and spiritual well-being of individuals who have been impacted by the crime of childhood sexual abuse, no matter how long ago the crime was committed.

To date, Pennsylvania’s dioceses have spent more than $16.6 million on victim/survivor assistance services to provide compassionate support to individuals and families. Tens of millions more has been negotiated in financial settlements with survivors who sought that type of resolution. We will continue to offer support and assistance as long as it is needed. Learn more about assistance for childhood sexual abuse survivors here.

The debate about statutes of limitations is not yet over. Lawmakers may still be asked to vote on House Bill 1947. Send a message asking them to oppose unfair changes to the statutes of limitations through the Catholic Advocacy Network.

Conscience Protection Bill Passes U.S. House

usccbWASHINGTON—Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan and Archbishop William E. Lori – as chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities and Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, respectively – commended the U.S. House of Representatives for passing the Conscience Protection Act of 2016 (S. 304) on July 13 in a 245-182 bipartisan vote.

“We’re grateful to House Speaker Paul Ryan for bringing the Conscience Protection Act to a vote, to all the co-sponsors for their leadership, and to those members of both parties who support the civil right of conscience,” Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori said. “Even those who disagree on the life issue should be able to respect the conscience rights of those who wish not to be involved in supporting abortion.”

If enacted into law, the Conscience Protection Act “will ensure that those providing much-needed health care and health coverage can continue to do so without being forced to help destroy innocent unborn children,” they wrote. “It will also provide an effective remedy to victims of abortion coercion.”

“The vast majority of medical personnel – and 85% of OB-GYNs, specifically – do not want to be involved in abortion. Whether their reasons are religious or non-religious, their conscientious objection to abortion is worthy of the highest respect and protection,” they said.

The Conscience Protection Act offers much-needed protection for religious employers, as well. “In light of disturbing recent developments, even churches and religious organizations are being required to cover abortions in violation of their beliefs,” they said.

“We now urge Congress to move this vital legislation forward as part of this year’s must-pass appropriations package,” Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori said.

For more on the bishops’ promotion of conscience rights, including a video about a nurse who was coerced to take part in a late-term abortion, visit:www.usccb.org/conscience.

Urge Congress to Pass the Conscience Protection Act NOW!

From NCHLA – Recent action by the federal government allowing California to continue forcing health plans to cover abortions has prompted the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to call for an immediate federal remedy.  It is critical that you contact your representatives and urge them to take immediate action to enact the Conscience Protection Act of 2016 H.R. 4828/S. 2927).  Even if you have responded to a previous alert, please contact your representatives again and urge them to support this bill. Read the Bishops’ news release here (link is external) and a fact sheet on the ruling here(link is external).

In 2014, California started forcing almost all health plans in the state to cover elective abortions, even late-term abortions. Religious employers in California that offer group health plans to their employees lodged an objection with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which has oversight responsibility for enforcing federal conscience laws.   On June 21, HHS declared, contrary to the plain meaning of current federal law that the California Department of Managed Health Care can continue to force all health plans under its jurisdiction to cover elective abortions. 

What is more, other states such as Washington and New York may be following California’s lead. These actions clearly violate a federal law known as the Weldon Amendment, which forbids governments receiving federal health care funds to discriminate against those who decline to take part in abortion or abortion coverage. Unfortunately, this amendment has limitations that may make it difficult to enforce.

While HHS badly interpreted the Weldon amendment, the Conscience Protection Act (CPA) of 2016, (H.R. 4828/S. 2927), will make it even clearer that sponsors or providers of health plans that do not include elective abortion cannot be discriminated against.  The CPA will protect health care providers from being forced to pay for or participate in abortions, and allow victims of discrimination a “right of action” to defend their rights in court. For example, nurses threatened with loss of their jobs unless they assist in abortions have found they have no right to go to court to see the law enforced. Congress should reaffirm a principle that has long enjoyed broad bipartisan support: Government should not force hospitals, doctors, nurses and other providers to stop offering much-needed health care because they cannot in good conscience participate in destroying a human life.

CONTACT YOUR LEGISLATORS HERE.

Thank Your Rep for Pro-Life Vote

Ultrasound of a baby at 20 weeks.

Ultrasound of a baby at 20 weeks.

Update: The Senate Judiciary Committee voted this bill out of committee before they left for the summer recess.  The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

The House of Representatives has passed House Bill 1948 with a vote of 132 to 65.

Easily thank your legislator for their “yes” vote by clicking here.

House Bill 1948 bans dismemberment abortion, which ends the life of the unborn baby by tearing off one limb at a time and increases the risk of injury to the mother, is used in over 1,500 abortions in Pennsylvania each year. The bill also bans abortions after 20 weeks, when the baby can feel pain and risks to the health of the mother increase significantly.

To find out if your legislator voted in favor of this live-saving bill, click here.  If your legislator did vote “yes”, please send a message thanking them for their pro-life stand.

Education Should Never Be Left to Chance

Students from Lebanon Catholic at the 2016 EITC rally.

Students from Lebanon Catholic at the 2016 EITC rally.

On a cloudy day in May, hundreds of students and parents gathered on the Capitol steps in Harrisburg to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program.

Attendees heard the story of a student who found stability and safety in the school of their choice, changing the entire family’s future.  One graduating senior who benefited from the tax credit program said, “I’m ready to move into the world.”

Attendees chanted, “What do we want? School choice! When do we want it? Now!” They heard from Senator Scott Wagner and Representative Stan Saylor, who attended the rally even though the legislature was not in session.

Tens of thousands of students have been able to choose their school thanks to EITC and its companion program, The Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program, which focuses on families who live in underperforming school districts.

However, there are many more who are turned away due to lack of funding.  As our elected officials consider the state budget, please click here to ask them to remember these families who want to choose the education that best suits their children but are currently left out of this program.

Spokeswoman Laments Court Decision Rejecting Abortion Clinic Safety

usccb1-150x150On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-3 ruling in the abortion facility medical standards case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. Deirdre McQuade, assistant director for pro-life communications at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, reacted to the loss.

“The Court has rejected a common-sense law protecting women from abortion facilities that put profits above patient safety,” McQuade said. “The law simply required abortion facilities to meet the same health and safety standards as other ambulatory surgical centers – standards like adequate staffing, soap dispensers, and basic sanitary conditions. It required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, and that hallways be wide enough to allow emergency personnel through with stretchers, should a life-threatening emergency arise.”

“Abortion claims the lives of unborn children, and too often endangers their mothers, as well,” she added. “This ruling contradicts the consensus among medical groups that such measures protect women’s lives.”

On February 1, the USCCB’s General Counsel had filed an amicus curiae brief calling for the law to be upheld on behalf of USCCB, the Texas Catholic Conference, and several other Christian partners.

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Note: Pennsylvania law requires surgical abortion facilities to satisfy ambulatory surgical facility (“ASF”) standards.  The Supreme  Court decision on June 27 about the Texas law does not void the 2011 Pennsylvania law.  Unlike the Texas law, which was inflexible, the Pennsylvania law allows for some waivers.  That may be an important distinction.  It is possible that the Pennsylvania law will be challenged in the courts by pro-abortion activists.  One State Senator has said he will introduce a bill to repeal the Pennsylvania law.  For the time being, the Pennsylvania Department of Health should continue to apply ASF standards to abortion facilities. PCC will post updates when available.

Senate Judiciary Committee Amends SoL Bill, No Retroactivity

Update: On June 30, the Senate voted 49-0 in favor of the amended House Bill 1947 described below. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for concurrence.

The Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee took action on House Bill 1947 today. With an 8-4 vote the committee amended the bill to strip the provision that would retroactively nullify the civil statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse cases from decades ago. The committee cited conflicts with Pennsylvania’s state constitution as the reason for the change.

The committee maintained the provision that will prospectively eliminate the criminal statute of limitations. The amendment also prospectively allows abuse survivors to sue either public or private entities under an equal standard of proof until they reach age 50, and allows survivors to sue in certain cases beyond age 50.

The amended bill passed out of the committee unanimously and is expected to be considered on the Senate floor this week. The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference will review the details of the amended bill to determine what impact it may have.

In a statement, the PCC reiterated that no matter the final resolution of the legislation, the Catholic Church will keep its sincere commitment to the emotional and spiritual well-being of individuals who have been impacted by the crime of childhood sexual abuse, no matter how long ago the crime was committed.

No institution is more acutely aware of the harm, pain and anger caused by child sexual abuse than the Roman Catholic Church. The Church has repeatedly acknowledged its past mistakes and its role in the ongoing suffering experienced by survivors and their loved ones.

For more than a decade, the Catholic community has consistently enforced strict safe environment policies and offered assistance to survivors and their families.  While recognizing and respecting that every individual must take his or her own personal journey to heal, the Church is committed to offering assistance.

  • All survivors of abuse are offered assistance no matter how long ago the crime occurred.
  • Each diocese has trained and deployed professional victim assistance staff to provide a response that is compassionate, supportive, and sensitive to the needs of survivors.
  • Every diocese has an office for victim/survivor assistance, which provides a range of support, including :
    •  Counseling and other forms of therapy for survivors and their families
    • Addressing barriers to participation in therapy, such as child care and transportation
    • Vocational assistance
    •  Resources about child sexual abuse support services in the community
    • Financial assistance for medication
    • Referrals and payments for outpatient therapy and related psychiatric services
    •  Assessment and case management assistance for social services resources
    • Pastoral support and counseling
    • Facilitation of meetings with the Archbishop or Bishop

To date, Pennsylvania’s dioceses have spent more than $16.6 million on victim/survivor assistance services to provide compassionate support to individuals and families. Tens of millions more has been negotiated in financial settlements with survivors who sought that resolution. We will continue to offer support and assistance as long as it is needed. Read more about the Church’s support for childhood sexual abuse survivors.

Send a message to your state Senator about House Bill 1947.

Pro Life Bill Passes House

A baby's ultrasound at 20 weeks gestation. Credit: WebMD.com

A baby’s ultrasound at 20 weeks gestation. Credit: WebMD.com

House Bill 1948 updates Pennsylvania’s laws to be in line with the will of most Americans as well as medical advancements that reveal the baby’s ability to feel pain and live outside the womb.

And it passed the House by a vote of 132 to 65. Send a “thank you” message to your legislator by clicking here.

Specifically, House Hill 1948 bans dismemberment abortion, which ends the life of the unborn baby by tearing off one limb at a time and increases the risk of injury to the mother, is used in over 1,500 abortions in Pennsylvania each year. It also bans abortions after 20 weeks, when the baby can feel pain and risks to the health of the mother increase significantly.

The legislation now heads to the Senate, where a similar bill, Senate Bill 888, has also been introduced.

“This vote clearly indicates that the vast majority of Pennsylvania’s representatives are committed to protecting unborn children. We thank them for this important vote that upholds the dignity of of all human life,” said Fran Viglietta, Director of Social Concerns.

Here is a breakdown of the vote by diocese. Thank your legislator for their “yes” vote!

ALLENTOWN DIOCESE  

Thomas Caltagirone
Jim Cox
Gary Day
Joe Emrick
Mark Gillen
Neal Goodman
Marcia Hahn
Julie Harhart
Doyle Heffley
Barry Jozwiak
Jerry Knowles
Ryan Mackenzie
David Maloney
Justin Simmons
Mike Tobash

ALTOONA-JOHNSTOWN DIOCESE           

Bryan Barbin
Kerry Benninghoff
Frank Burns
Michael Hanna
Rich Irvin
Tim Mahoney
John McGinnis
Carl Metzgar
Mike Reese
Thomas Sankey
Jesse Topper
Judith Ward

ERIE DIOCESE    

Matthew Baker
Martin  Causer
Cris Dush
Matt Gabler
R. James
Mark Longietti
Tedd Nesbit
Donna   Oberlander
Kathy Rapp (Sponsor)
Brad Roae
Curtis Sonney
Thomas Sankey
Parke Wentling

GREENSBURG DIOCESE

Peter Daley
George Dunbar
Cris Dush
Eli Evankovich
R. Harhai
Tim Mahoney
Eric Nelson
Donna Oberlander
Joseph  Petrarca
Jeffrey  Pyle
Dave Reed
Mike Reese
Pam Snyder
Ryan Warner

HARRISBURG DIOCESE
Kerry Benninghoff
Stephen Bloom
Jim Cox
Lynda Culver
Bryan Cutler
Russell Diamond
Garth Everett
Mindy Fee
Mark Gillen
Keith Gillespie
Mauree Gingrich
Keith Greiner
Seth Grove
Adam Harris
Susan Helm
David Hickernell
Kristin Hill
Rich Irvin
Robert  Kauffman
Fred Keller
Mark Keller
Kate Klunk
John Lawrence
Ronald  Marsico
Kurt Masser
Steven  Mentzer
David Millard
Brett Miller
Dan Moul
John Payne
Mike Regan
Greg Rothman
Stanley Saylor
Paul Schemel
Will Tallman
Mike Tobash
Jesse Topper
David Zimmerman

ARCHDIOCESE OF PHILADELPHIA            

William Adolph
Stephen Barrar
Becky Corbin
Gene DiGirolamo
Michael Driscoll
John Galloway
Robert  Godshall
Kate Harper
Tim Hennessey
John Lawrence
Nick Miccarelli
Thomas Quigley
Marguerite Quinn
Jamie Santora
Craig Staats
John Taylor
Marcy Toepel
Dan Truitt
Katharine Watson
Martina White

PITTSBURGH DIOCESE
Jim Christiana
Dom Costa
Peter Daley
Daniel Deasy
Brian Ellis
Hal English
Eli Evankovich
Jaret Gibbons
R. James
William Kortz
John Maher
Joseph  Markosek
Jim Marshall
Robert  Matzie
Daryl Metcalfe
Mark Mustio
Tedd Nesbit
Brandon Neuman
Jason Ortitay
Jeffrey  Pyle
Adam Ravenstahl
Harry Readshaw
Rick Saccone
Christopher Sainato
Justin Simmons
Pam Snyder
Michael Turzai
Parke Wentling

SCRANTON DIOCESE      

Matthew Baker
Karen Boback
Rosemary Brown
Garth Everett
Frank Farina
Aaron Kaufer
Sid Kavulich
Sandra Major
David Parker
Michael Peifer
Tina Pickett
Jack Rader
Tarah Toohil
Jeff Wheeland