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What’s on the PCC Legislative Agenda?

The PA Senate Bill Room

The 2017-2018 session of the Pennsylvania General Assembly is now fully underway and the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the Pennsylvania Catholic Health Association are tracking a number of different legislative proposals.

See what bills are on the radar screen

PCC and PCHA formulate policy positions about state government programs, legislation, and policies that affect the common good and the interests of the Church. Areas of interest include concern for the poor, education, faith and politics, health care, respect for human life, religious liberty and social justice.

In each two-year legislative session, the Legislative Reference Bureau prepares about 70 million pages of bills, amendments, resolutions, and citations introduced by the members of the General Assembly. Only a fraction of them will ever become law, but each one has the potential for consideration.

The PCC and PCHA review hundreds of these bills with a Catholic lens. Some bills may affect the Church, and its Catholic schools, charities, and health care facilities as an institution; but many more deserve consideration because they concern the welfare of others. The Gospel calls us to support and defend the common good.

With so many proposals to consider, how do the PCC and PCHA prioritize what to track? Bills that promote these values may earn Catholic support; bills that may harm or contradict will be opposed.

  • Protection of human life from conception until natural death.
  • Support of programs that provide aid to nonpublic school students and their parents, including school choice.
  • Health care and insurance reform that guarantees access to adequate health care, standard benefits, long-term care for all persons, and care that allows religiously-affiliated providers to deliver services in accord with their ethical and moral principles.
  • Strengthening Pennsylvania families and working to uphold the stability of marriage between one man and one woman.
  • Support for safe and affordable religious child care facilities.
  • Advocacy for social justice and human rights for all Pennsylvanians, especially for programs that serve people in need.
  • Protection of the right to religious freedom, whether within the Church walls or in the community.

Many bills that address important topics are introduced, but not all of them are likely to be considered. The PCC and PCHA include bills in its legislative review that seem to have “traction;” but things can happen fast in a legislative session. News and urgent calls to action are constantly updated on www.pacatholic.org.

Pray for our elected officials and their public policy deliberations. The well-being of Pennsylvania’s citizens depends on it!

Catholic Schools Stand Out in 2017 PA-CAPE Annual Awards

PA-CAPE award recipients at the awards ceremony in Harrisburg on May 10th. (L to R): Jeanne Koenig Meredith (St. Mary Interparochial School), Christopher Buck (Mother Teresa Regional Catholic School), Mary B. Stauffer (Dayspring Christian Academy), Nona Shanis Melnick (Montessori Children’s House), Kevin Skaer (The Christian Academy), Rebecca Dewey (Gladwyne Montessori), Diane Hediger (representing Queen of Angels Regional Catholic School)

The Pennsylvania affiliate of the Council on American Private Education (PA-CAPE) honor Pennsylvania’s brightest teachers, administrators, and schools in the private sector each year.  The 2017 PA-CAPE Private School Teacher, Administrator, and School Awards included several Catholic winners. Representing approximately 85 percent of the students in private schools in Pennsylvania, PA-CAPE established the awards ceremony to elevate the status of private education in the eyes of the communities they serve as well as the Pennsylvania legislature.  There are many excellent candidates nominated for these awards each year, all of whom provide an outstanding example of how Pennsylvania private schools are changing the lives of students both in and out of the classroom.  We would like to recognize and congratulate the following individuals and school for winning this year’s awards.

  • Rebecca Dewey – Early Childhood Educator (Gladwyne Montessori)
  • Nona Shanis Melnick – Early Childhood Administrator (Montessori Children’s House)
  • Mary B. Stauffer – Primary Educator (Dayspring Christian Academy)
  • Jeanne Koenig Meredith – Primary Administrator (St. Mary Interparochial School)
  • Christopher Buck – Secondary Educator (Mother Teresa Regional Catholic School)
  • Kevin M. Skaer – Secondary Administrator (The Christian Academy)
  • Queen of Angels Regional Catholic School – Story Award

 

These teachers and administrators have a personal testimony that reinforces the overall significance of private school educators and leaders; we congratulate and thank them for the impact they make in their classrooms, schools, and in the lives of each of their students!

Growing Vegetables & Awareness in the State Capitol’s Hunger Garden

Some of Pennsylvania’s politicians play dirty at the State Capitol – literally. Several members of the Legislative Hunger Caucus led by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) and Representative Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny) got into the dirt and planted tomatoes, peppers, and other fresh vegetables in the Hunger Garden on Wednesday, May 10, 2017.

Located on the State Capitol grounds between the Main Capitol Building and the Ryan Office Building, the Capitol Hunger Garden provides healthy food for the Downtown Daily Bread soup kitchen in Harrisburg and serves as a valuable tool to raise awareness of hunger issues in Pennsylvania.

Every year, hundreds of volunteers including Master Gardeners plant, cultivate, and harvest thousands of pounds of produce to feed many Pennsylvanians in need from this small plot of earth.

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference’s Social Concerns Director Eric Failing offered an appropriate quote from Pope Francis, “It is Jesus himself who invites us to make room in our hearts for the urgency to ‘feed the hungry,’ and the Church has made it one of the corporal works of mercy. To share what we have with those who lack the means to satisfy such a primary need, educates us in that charity that is an overflowing gift of passion for the life of the poor that the Lord makes us meet.”

Hunger is an issue that affects every community in America; men, women, the elderly, and especially children face food insecurity every day. Catholic Charities operate over 10.4 million food services across the country including food distribution in pantries and food banks, fully prepared meals served in dining facilities, soup kitchen facilities, and home delivery.

Learn more about Pennsylvania’s Legislative Hunger Caucus here.

Inform Your Conscience: Who’s Who in the 2017 PA Primary Election

Pennsylvanians will take to the polls on Tuesday, May 16, 2017, to select candidates to represent their political parties in the state and local judicial elections, and municipal elections. What are the duties of these offices and why are they important to Catholics?

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is composed of seven justices. It is Pennsylvania’s highest court, so in matters of law it is the Commonwealth’s court of last resort. It is also the oldest appellate court in the nation. Most of the cases that come before the PA Supreme Court are requests for discretionary appeals from the Commonwealth Court and Superior Court; direct appeals from a lower court’s decision, including when a sentence of death is issued; requests to intervene in a lower court’s proceedings; or requests to let someone go from illegal detention.

Pennsylvania’s Superior Court is one of two intermediate appellate courts. Fifteen judges sit on this court to hear appeals in criminal and most civil cases from lower local courts, and appeals on matters involving children and families. The other intermediate appellate court is the Commonwealth Court. The nine judges on this court primarily hear cases that involve state and local governments and regulatory agencies. It also acts as a trial court when lawsuits are filed by or against the Commonwealth.

Local courts at the county level are called Courts of Common Pleas. They are general trial courts where most cases are resolved. Lower than that and more local still are the municipal courts where district magistrates determine whether criminal cases are serious enough to be sent to the Court of Common Pleas.

Learn more about Pennsylvania’s unified court system at www.pacourts.us.

In the Primary Election, each political party will select its candidates for one Supreme Court Justice; four Superior Court Judges; two Commonwealth Court Judges; and the various candidates for the local courts and local municipal offices such as mayor, city council, school board, and others.

Statewide Judicial Ballot

PA Supreme Court (vote for one)

REPUBLICAN

 

DEMOCRAT

 

PA Superior Court (vote for four)

REPUBLICANS

 

DEMOCRATS

 

PA Commonwealth Court (vote for two)

REPUBLICANS

 

DEMOCRATS

 

The judges we elect have an important job. While our advocacy is directed toward the legislative process, many matters concerning abortion, the death penalty, religious liberty, marriage, and other questions of social justice may come before the courts. The checks and balances that the judicial branch has on the other branches of government are significant. We have a duty to support candidates that uphold moral values in all branches of government.

Educate your Conscience

There are a few sources of information where voters can gain insights into the qualifications and values of the judicial candidates. Some groups ask general questions on their candidate surveys; for example, the PA League of Women Voters and the PA Bar Association. Other groups may be more focused on the candidates’ positon on a few particular issues such as the PA ProLife Federation, the PA Family Institute or the National Organization for Women. You can also learn a lot about a candidate’s views from the endorsements they receive. Click the links on the names above to see the endorsements listed on each candidate’s campaign website.

Get Out To Vote!

Mark your calendar for Tuesday, May 16, 2017. Get details about your polling place at www.votespa.com. And pray for Pennsylvania’s elected officials!

Better Care, More Access for Women

“Better care, more access for women,” is the rallying cry of advocates who want to direct our limited tax dollars to health care providers that provide the most comprehensive care for women. Senate Bill 300 proposes a prioritization of funding of women’s health services and family planning to go to Federally Qualified Health Centers and Rural Health Centers which provide a wide array of women’s health services over those that offer limited services and focus narrowly on contraception, STD screening, and abortion.

Federally Qualified Health Centers offer comprehensive care, including prenatal care, mental health services, dental care, and other women’s health services; and FQHCs are easier to access. There are more than 300 of these centers in Pennsylvania compared to the 25 more narrowly focused centers operated by Planned Parenthood.

Tell your state Senator that women deserve efficient and comprehensive primary health care. Urge them to vote YES on SB 300 through the Catholic Advocacy Network.

Prayer for the Protection of Religious Liberty

O God our Creator,

from your provident hand we have received
our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
You have called us as your people and given us
the right and the duty to worship you, the only true God,
and your Son, Jesus Christ.
Through the power and working of your Holy Spirit,
you call us to live out our faith in the midst of the world,
bringing the light and the saving truth of the Gospel
to every corner of society.

We ask you to bless us
in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty.
Give us the strength of mind and heart
to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened;
give us courage in making our voices heard
on behalf of the rights of your Church
and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.

Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father,
a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters
gathered in your Church
in this decisive hour in the history of our nation,
so that, with every trial withstood
and every danger overcome—
for the sake of our children, our grandchildren,
and all who come after us—
this great land will always be “one nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

President Trump’s Religious Liberty Executive Order

PHOTO CREDIT: flickr https://flic.kr/p/6Taqxu

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), responded to President Donald J. Trump’s executive order concerning religious liberty that was issued on May 4, 2017.

Cardinal DiNardo’s full statement follows:

“Today’s Executive Order begins the process of alleviating the serious burden of the HHS mandate. We will engage with the Administration to ensure that adequate relief is provided to those with deeply held religious beliefs about some of the drugs, devices, and surgical procedures that HHS has sought to require people of faith to facilitate over the last several years. We welcome a decision to provide a broad religious exemption to the HHS mandate, but will have to review the details of any regulatory proposals.

In recent years, people of faith have experienced pressing restrictions on religious freedom from both the federal government and state governments that receive federal funding. For example, in areas as diverse as adoption, education, healthcare, and other social services, widely held moral and religious beliefs, especially regarding the protection of human life as well as preserving marriage and family, have been maligned in recent years as bigotry or hostility — and penalized accordingly. But disagreement on moral and religious issues is not discrimination; instead, it is the inevitable and desirable fruit of a free, civil society marked by genuine religious diversity.

We will continue to advocate for permanent relief from Congress on issues of critical importance to people of faith.  Religious freedom is a fundamental right that should be upheld by all branches of government and not subject to political whims. As president of the Bishops’ Conference, I had the opportunity to meet with President Trump this morning in the Oval Office to address these and other topics.”

Prioritizing Funding for Women’s Primary Health Care

The Pennsylvania Senate Finance Committee voted 7-5 in favor of Senate Bill 300 which will prioritize the funding of women’s health services and family planning. In effect, the bill would direct the limited federal and state public funding first to the most efficient and comprehensive health care providers.

Public entities that provide a wide array of primary care services will receive the highest priority for receiving such funds. Next in line would be non-public hospitals and federally qualified health centers, rural health clinics, and non-public health providers that have their main purpose as the provision of primary health care. The bill also prohibits the Department of Human Services from entering into a contract with or making a grant to “any entity that performs abortions that are not federally qualified abortions or maintains or operates a facility where such abortions are performed, except as required by Federal law.”

In describing the bill before the committee, the prime sponsor Senator John Eichelberger (R-Blair County) offered a list of about a dozen services provided by federally qualified health centers including diabetes and heart disease screening, even flu shots, which is why he feels they should have priority. Other providers that are more focused on family planning such as Planned Parenthood only provide three. Eichelberger said Planned Parenthood, for example, can test for a sexually transmitted disease (STD) but the patient must go somewhere else for treatment. “There are other resources in communities (that can offer more complete care),” he contended, speaking specifically to community health centers.

Tell your state Senator that women deserve efficient and comprehensive primary health care. Urge them to vote YES on SB 300 through the Catholic Advocacy Network.

Pennsylvania Civic Commemoration Ceremony of the Holocaust

Harrisburg Bishop Ronald Gainer and Rabbi Elisha Friedman and son from Kesher Israel, Harrisburg, PA

“We must always be vigilant in preventing such atrocities,” said Matthew Handel, Chair of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition. “This annual civic commemoration is essential to acknowledge and reflect on the catastrophe that fell upon the Jewish people and other groups of victims who were the recipients of unfathomable bigotry and hatred.

“We must never forget, so that we do not allow this tragic chapter of history to be repeated.”

The Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition hosted this year’s Civic Commemoration of the Holocaust on April 24, 2017, at the State Capitol.  The 33rd annual ceremony included remarks from many elected officials including Governor Tom Wolf and resolutions from the Pennsylvania Senate and House.

The ceremony also included the lighting of candles by Holocaust survivors, and children and grandchildren of survivors, an essay reading from students, and an interfaith message by Bishop Ronald Gainer of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg.

“The crimes of the Nazis began with a false understanding of humanity – that there are different “grades” of being and worth among people. This misguided idea that human beings differ from each other in terms of dignity, importance, or worth,” said Bishop Gainer, “must be categorically rejected as a direct contradiction to a moral and democratic society.”

“May this Holocaust Memorial Day forge a united resolve never to forget the tears and sufferings of the past and a united resolve to protect the dignity and sanctity of every person and to protect the rights endowed to every person by our Creator.”