Another two-year legislative session is ending in Harrisburg. Hundreds of public policy proposals were discussed and done, or left undone by the Pennsylvania General Assembly. The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) and the Pennsylvania Catholic Health Association (PCHA) tracked and reviewed more than 260 bills which they supported, opposed or took no position.
A notable PCC priority– the Pennsylvania Marriage Protection Amendment – unfortunately was left undone. Efforts to protect marriage will resume in the new session beginning January 2007. But many lesser known initiatives supported by the PCC and PCHA did succeed.
- Language was successfully included in the fiscal code bill companion to the state budget stipulating that no state or federal funding for family planning services may be used to promote, perform, counsel for, or refer for abortions. Similar restrictions were vetoed by Governor Rendell in the prior budget year. This is the first time such restrictions have been placed on both federal and state funds in Pennsylvania.
- Pennsylvania’s minimum wage was increased to $6.25 per hour beginning January 1, then $7.15 per hour by July 1, 2007. Church teaching supports fair wages for work.
- Funding for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program was expanded by $10 million bringing the total to $54 million. The EITC program provides businesses with a tax credit for donations to nonprofit scholarship or educational improvement organizations, which then provide scholarships to children. It gives parents the economic means to choose the learning environment they believe best for their children, regardless of family income.
- Overly burdensome child care regulations were withdrawn by the Department of Public Welfare (DPW). The proposed regulations insisted that religious child care centers obtain a certificate of compliance, ignoring a recent court decision which held that nonprofit child care facilities cannot be forced to obtain one. Furthermore, the regulations attempted to regulate the instructional program content of Catholic pre-schools, which is a violation of religious freedom protected under the First Amendment.
- The “Cover All Kids” initiative passed offering health care coverage to every child in Pennsylvania by expanding the Pennsylvania Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Under Cover All Kids, 100 percent of parents who currently cannot afford to insure their children will get assistance from the state. PCHA and PCC have been involved in advocacy efforts for health care coverage of children since the inception of CHIP in 1992.
- Deep cuts in Medical Assistance reimbursement for hospitals were initially proposed for the 2006-2007 state budget. The cuts would have impacted the ability of vulnerable populations to access essential health care services. Advocacy efforts prompted the legislature to restore the cuts in the final version of the budget ensuring health care services to the neediest people in our communities. PCC and PCHA were also involved in efforts to prevent changes to nursing home “case mix” reimbursement that would have negatively impacted residents and providers.
The new legislative session brings new opportunities to advance important public policies that protect families, the poor and vulnerable, and stand up for social justice.
PCC Column November 2006 by Amy Beisel, Communications Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania.