Hot Issues

Post Election Exhale

The dust has settled; the 2006 election is over. Analysts will debate what happened and why for years; but one thing is for certain, Catholics are a significant voting bloc.

But how do Catholic voters properly educated on important issues by the teaching of the Church choose their candidates? Do voters’ guides addressed to “Catholic” issues truly “guide” Catholics by fairly representing the Church’s views on issues?

Many guides identify themselves as Catholic, but they do not speak for the Church. While voters should learn about upcoming elections from many sources, Catholics should be wary about groups who claim to represent authentic Church teachings. Some guides contain compelling points to consider; but some may be misleading or confusing. Catholics must be vigilant about what they read, and be sure they understand actual Church teachings.

To take an example, one advocacy group’s guide says, “We need to understand that our Church’s social teaching calls us to consider a broad range of important issues – on everything from poverty to war, human rights, abortion and the environment.” (Voting for the Common Good: A Practical Guide for Conscientious Catholics)

That is true and a good point, but the guide goes on to say, “Since we seldom, if ever, have the opportunity to vote for a candidate with the right positions on all the issues important to Catholics, we often must vote for candidates who may hold the ‘wrong’ Catholic positions on some issues in order to maximize the good our vote achieves in other areas.”

This statement incompletely depicts the moral decision making process. By making all important moral issues of equal value, it does not take into account that some moral “wrongs” pose a greater and more immediate threat to our society than others.

In March of 2006, Pope Benedict XVI articulated the Church’s views on the priorities we must consider if we are to be faithful to our Christian witness:

1. Protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death;

2. Recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family as a union between a man and a woman based on marriage;

3. Protection of the rights of parents to educate their children.

Benedict XVI clarified: “These principles are not truths of faith, even though they receive further light and confirmation from faith; they are inscribed in human nature itself and therefore they are common to all humanity.”

As a faith community, we do not determine right and wrong by popular vote, although we do influence society and the quality of life we share together by making informed moral choices when we cast our votes in secular elections.

The Church teaches that the task at hand for all of society is to defend the most fundamental aspects of human dignity. If these essential elements are compromised, our witness to Christ’s teachings is corrupted.

This year’s election is over, and Catholic voters have learned that the moral choices they make at the polls have a substantial influence on how public policies are determined. Catholics are therefore even more responsible for learning what they need to know to be faithful citizens on their next trip to the ballot box.

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PCC Column December 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.

2005-2006 Legislative Session Comes to an End

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.

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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.

Emergency Contraception and Religious Freedom

In Harrisburg, a legislative mandate for hospitals to provide emergency contraception (EC) to victims of sexual assault is being considered. This drug treatment is confusing. How does it work? Where does the Catholic Church stand? Why should citizens care?

EC is a high dose of birth control. It prevents pregnancy by delaying ovulation, preventing fertilization, or preventing a fertilized egg from implantation if taken within a few hours of intercourse. Catholic teaching holds that life begins at conception, so if a fertilized egg is prevented from implanting in the womb, it is considered an abortion – the termination of a human life.

No community is untouched by the violence of rape. The Church, through Catholic hospitals, has for years given care and treatment to rape victims. Each victim is provided compassionate care and emotional support.

Catholic hospitals are committed to treating victims with compassion, sensitivity and respect. Catholic teaching explains that a woman who has been raped should be able to defend herself from a potential conception and receive treatments to suppress ovulation and prevent fertilization. Because sexual assault is an act of unjust aggression, Pennsylvania’s Catholic hospitals may administer emergency contraception when tests confirm that conception has not likely occurred.

However, if medical tests suggest that conception may have occurred, the Catholic Bishops of Pennsylvania indicate that no drug should be provided by a Catholic facility that will interfere with the implantation of a newly conceived human life. The loss of an innocent human life is simply not morally defensible.

An amendment to the EC legislation provides a religious exemption which would give freedom to religious health care providers to provide appropriate compassionate care. It would avoid a government requirement which would otherwise trample religious freedom and conscience. The bill may be considered before the end of the legislative session.

There are many public policy issues like this one which are important to Catholics. Catholic voters are encouraged to educate themselves about these concerns. The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) is the public affairs agency of Pennsylvania’s Bishops. To learn more, log on to pacatholic.org.

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PCC Column October 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.

Election 2006 Special Edition of Viewpoint

Fall 2006 Viewpoint

Fall 2006 Viewpoint

The candidates for U.S. senator, governor and lieutenant governor received a written questionnaire from the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) asking for their positions on issues important to Catholics. The candidates’ responses are are listed in this special voter guide edition of Viewpoint.

Faithful Citizenship

America’s Catholic Bishops remind us that, “in the Catholic tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue; participation in the political process is a moral obligation. All believers are called to faithful citizenship, to become informed, active, and responsible participants in the political process.” (Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) statement, 2004)

On Tuesday, November 7, 2006, Catholic voters in Pennsylvania get the chance to practice faithful citizenship when they cast their votes for one U.S. Senator, Members of Congress, Pennsylvania governor, and all the representatives and half of the senators of the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

The deadline to register to vote is October 10, 2006. To qualify, individuals must be a citizen of the United States for at least one month; a resident of Pennsylvania and the election district in which the individual desires to register and vote for at least 30 days; and, at least 18 years of age on or before Election Day.

Voters may register in person at a county voter registration office or other county designated site(s) such as voter registration drives around the community; or by mail. A voter registration application may be downloaded, printed and mailed, or completed online at the Pennsylvania Department of State website, www.votespa.com.

The polls in Pennsylvania are open from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm on Election Day. Registered voters with a disability or who are 65 or older may vote by absentee ballot if their polling place has been deemed to be inaccessible.

Absentee ballots are available to persons in the armed forces, their spouses and dependents, other citizens in federal service attached to the armed forces, persons absent from their municipality the entire time the polls are open, those who cannot attend the polls because of illness or disability, county employees whose Election Day responsibilities prohibit them from going to the polls and persons who will not go to the polls because of observing a religious holiday.

The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is October 31, 2006. Completed absentee ballots must be received by the county board of elections no later than 5 pm on the Friday before the election.

The issues facing Pennsylvania now and in the coming years present serious moral, ethical and social justice questions. As faithful citizens it is important to ask ourselves, how do we protect human life and dignity? How do we fairly share our blessings and confront the challenges we face? What kind of nation or Commonwealth do we want? What kind of world do we want to help shape?

We can answer those questions by registering and voting our informed consciences.

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PCC Column September 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.

Committee Reviews “Pro-life” Concerns about Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Stem cells are in the news again. In July, President George Bush vetoed a bill that would have provided federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Proponents of this controversial research will now pressure state government to support their efforts.

Rep. Tom Tangretti (D-Westmoreland), Rep. Tom Tigue (D-Luzerne/Monroe) and Rep. Richard Grucela (D-Northampton) hosted a hearing of the Pennsylvania House Democratic Policy Committee on the issue. Tangretti said embryonic stem cell research is confusing; there are many scientific and moral questions to consider. He hoped the hearing would inform the public that embryonic cells are not the only type showing promise. Ethical adult stem cell research is succeeding and yielding therapies that are healing people now. The July 25 meeting was the committee’s third on the topic.

Steve Johnson and his daughter Zara spoke to the panel. Johnson and his wife “adopted” Zara when she was a frozen embryo through the Snowflake Frozen Embryo Adoption Program. After implantation, Mrs. Johnson was able to give birth to Zara naturally. Johnson, himself a paraplegic from an accident, supports ethical, adult stem cell research.

Stephen Webster, CEO of Nureonyx, discussed the business opportunities of stem cell research. His company researches and develops cellular treatments for heart disease.

Dr. Gary Friedman of the New Jersey Stem Cell Research and Education Foundation explained how successful stem cell therapies will be more important as the aging American population puts a strain on our health care system. For example, stem cell therapies might help the people on the rapidly growing organ transplant list.

Dr. Katherine High of the Center for Cellular and Molecular Therapeutics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia was the lone speaker supporting embryonic research. She contends that without state funding Pennsylvania might be a “follower” instead of a “leader” in stem cell research which could hurt the Commonwealth’s economy.

Ethical considerations of embryonic stem cell research were discussed by Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk of the National Catholic Bioethics Center. He asked, “Just because we can, should we?” He reiterated that the Catholic Church does not oppose stem cell research, but advocates research on non-embryonic cells that does not destroy human life. Fr. Pacholczyk cautioned that describing embryos as “spares” to be discarded like medical waste creates “an unacceptable subclass of humans.”

The Pennsylvania Legislature reconvenes in September. Expect embryonic stem cell research to be on the agenda.

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In other news, Sen. Jane Orie (R-Allegheny) and Rep. Jerry Birmelin (R-Monroe, Pike, Wayne) added language in the law barring providers from spending certain federal and state family planning dollars on abortion related activities; and, requires them to physically and financially separate their abortion related activities from family planning services. The new law applies to counseling and referral as well as performance of abortions.

Senate and House leaders and Sen. Robert Mellow (D-Lackawanna), Senate Minority Pro-Life Caucus Chair; Rep. Tom Tangretti (D-Westmoreland), House Minority Pro-Life Caucus Chair; Sen. Robert Wonderling, (R-Montgomery); Sen. John C. Rafferty, Jr. (R-Montgomery, Chester, Berks); Rep. Katie True (R-Lancaster); and Rep. Tom Tigue (D-Luzerne, Monroe) were instrumental in the law’s passage.

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PCC Column August 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.

Fair Wages for Work

Working families in Pennsylvania are getting a raise. The minimum wage in Pennsylvania will increase from the current $5.15 per hour to $6.25 on Jan. 1, 2007, then to $7.15 on July 1, 2007. Qualified employers with the equivalent of 10 or fewer full-time employees have until July 1, 2008, to implement the change.

Minimum wage supporters contend that many Pennsylvanians depend on minimum wage jobs to earn their living and therefore deserve a “living wage.” The initial intent of the minimum wage was to keep families out of poverty. From 1966 to the early 1980s, the federal minimum wage law accomplished that. However, that has not been the case in recent years. It is unfair to expect a parent to work a full-time job and not be able to pay for even the essentials of life. A minimum wage earner working 40 hours per week for 52 weeks currently earns $10,712 a year or $5,888 less than the 2006 poverty guidelines for a family of three. For a family of four, the poverty guideline is $20,000. A minimum wage worker with a family falls far beneath the federal poverty guidelines.

Opponents contend that raising the state’s minimum wage will result in a loss of jobs as employers will be forced to raise wages across the board. Thus, it will leave fewer dollars to hire new employees. They also note that minimum wage jobs are taken primarily by high school students or by someone who already has a more lucrative full-time job and is just supplementing his or her income. They argue that raising the minimum wage could prompt employers to move their businesses out of Pennsylvania to a state with more favorable wage laws or could result outsourcing abroad.

The Catholic Church has no specific doctrine on whether the state should increase the minimum wage; but, papal encyclicals for the past 100 years clearly state that workers have a right to receive a just wage – “one that is sufficient to support a person and his/her family in reasonable and frugal comfort” (Pope Leo XIII). “The wage paid to the working man must be sufficient for the support of himself and his family” (Pope Pius XII). Perhaps section 2434 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes it best by stating, “A just wage is the legitimate fruit of work. To refuse or withhold it can be a grave injustice. In determining fair pay both the needs and the contributions of each person must be taken into account. Remuneration for work should guarantee man an opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for himself and his family on the material, social, cultural and spiritual level, taking into account the role and the productivity of each, the state of the business and the common good. Agreement between the parties is not sufficient to justify morally the amount to be received in wages.”

Based upon the social teachings of the Church, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) supported this minimum wage increase.

The following legislators from within this diocese voted in support of the minimum wage bill: (EDITOR’S NOTE: insert names from your diocese)

ALLENTOWN DIOCESE
Senators Lisa M. Boscola (Northampton County); Patrick M. Browne (Lehigh County); Raphael J. Musto (Luzerne County); Michael A. O’Pake (Berks County); John C. Rafferty, Jr. (Chester County); James J. Rhoades (Schuylkill County); Robert C. Wonderling (Montgomery County); Representatives Bob Allen (Schuylkill County); David G. Argall (Schuylkill County); Karen D. Beyer (Lehigh County); Thomas R. Caltagirone (Berks County); Craig A. Dally (Northampton County); Robert L. Freeman (Northampton County); Neal P. Goodman (Schuylkill County); Richard T. Grucela (Northampton County); Julie Harhart (Northampton County); Jennifer L. Mann (Lehigh County); Keith R. McCall (Carbon County); Sheila M. Miller (Berks County); Douglas G. Reichley (Lehigh County); T.J. Rooney (Northampton County); Steve Samuelson (Northampton County); Dante Santoni, Jr. (Berks County); and Paul W. Semmel (Lehigh County)

ALTOONA-JOHNSTOWN DIOCESE
Senators Jacob D. Corman, III (Centre County); Robert C. Jubelirer (Blair County); Richard A. Kasunic (Fayette County); John N. Wozniak (Cambria County); Representatives Kerry A. Benninghoff (Centre County); Richard Allen Geist (Blair County); Gary Haluska (Cambria County); Michael K. Hanna, Sr. (Clinton County); Lynn B. Herman (Centre County); Dick Lee Hess (Bedford County); Larry O. Sather (Huntingdon County); Edward Wojnaroski, Sr. (Cambria County); and Thomas F. Yewcic (Cambria County)

ERIE DIOCESE
Senators Robert D. Robbins (Mercer County); Joseph B. Scarnati (Jefferson County); John N. Wozniak (Cambria County); Representatives Linda Bebki-Jones (Erie County); Martin T. Causer (McKean County); John R. Evans (Erie County); Florindo J. Fabrizio, Jr. (Erie County); Camile E. George (Clearfield County); Matthew W. Good (Erie County); Michael C. Gruitza (Mercer County); Fred McIlhattan (Clarion County); Samuel H. Smith (Jefferson County); and Dan A. Surra (Elk County)

GREENSBURG DIOCESE
Senators James Ferlo (Allegheny County); Richard A. Kasunic (Fayette County); Sean F. Logan (Allegheny County); J. Barry Stout (Washington County); Representatives James E. Casorio, Jr. (Westmoreland County); Peter J. Daley, II (Washington County); H. William DeWeese (Greene County); R. Ted Harhai (Westmoreland County); Joseph F. Markosek (Allegheny County); Fred McIhattan (Clarion County); John E. Pallone (Westmoreland County); Joseph A. Petrarca (Westmoreland County); Jeffrey P. Pyle (Armstrong County); Dave Reed (Indiana County); Lawrence Roberts (Fayette County); Samuel H. Smith (Jefferson County); Jess M. Stairs (Westmoreland County); and Thomas A. Tangretti (Westmoreland County).

HARRISBURG DIOCESE
Senators Jacob D. Corman, III, (Centre County); John R. Gordner (Northumberland County); Robert C. Jubelirer (Blair County); Terry L. Punt (Franklin County); Patricia H. Vance (Cumberland County); Michael L. Waugh (York County); Representatives Robert E. Belfanti, Jr., (Northumberland County); Kerry A. Benninghoff (Centre County); Ronald I. Buxton (Dauphin County); Russell H. Fairchild (Union County); Patrick E. Fleagle (Franklin County); Adam C. Harris (Juniata County); George C. Hasay (Luzerne County); Mark S. McNaughton (Dauphin County); David Millard (Columbia County); Jerry L. Nailor (Cumberland County); John D. Payne (Dauphin County); Merle H. Phillips (Northumberland County); Larry O. Sather (Huntingdon County); Stephen H. Stetler (York County); P. Michael Sturla (Lancaster County); and Katie True (Lancaster County).

PHILADELPHIA ARCHDIOCESE
Senators Joe Conti (Bucks County); Andrew Dinniman (Chester County); Edwin B. Erickson (Delaware County); Vincent J. Fumo (Philadelphia County); Stewart J. Greenleaf (Montgomery County); Vincent J. Hughes (Philadelphia County); Shirley M. Kitchen (Philadelphia County); Dominic F. Pileggi (Chester County); John C. Rafferty, Jr. (Chester County); Michael J. Stack, III (Philadelphia County); Christine M. Tartaglione (Philadelphia County); Robert M. Tomlinson (Bucks County); Leanna M. Washington (Philadelphia County); Anthony H. Williams (Philadelphia County); Robert C. Wonderling (Montgomery County); Representatives William F. Adolph, Jr. (Delaware County); Stephan E. Barrar (Delaware County); Louise Williams Bishop (Philadelphia County); Thomas W. Blackwell, IV (Philadelphia County); Raymond Bunt, Jr. (Montgomery County); Mario J. Civera, Jr. (Delaware County); Mark B. Cohen (Philadelphia County); Susan E. Cornell (Montgomery County); Thomas C. Corrigan, Sr. (Bucks County); Jacqueline R. Crahalla (Montgomery County); Angel Cruz (Philadelphia County); Lawrence H. Curry (Montgomery County); Gene DiGirolamo (Bucks County); Robert C. Donatucci (Philadelphia County); Dwight D. Evans (Philadelphia County); John W. Fichter (Montgomery County); Thomas P. Gannon (Delaware County); Michael F. Gerber (Montgomery County); Robert W. Godshall (Montgomery County); Kate M. Harper (Montgomery County); Tim Hennessey (Chester County); Arthur D. Hershey (Chester County); Harold James (Philadelphia County); Babette Josephs (Philadelphia County); William F. Keller (Philadelphia County); George T. Kenney, Jr. (Philadelphia County); Thomas H. Killion (Delaware County); Thaddeus Kirkland (Delaware County); Daylin Leach (Montgomery County); Marie A. Lederer (Philadelphia County); Kathy M. Manderino (Philadelphia County); Michael P. McGeehan (Philadelphia County); Eugene F. McGill (Montgomery County); Charles T. McIlhinney, Jr. (Bucks County); Anthony J. Melio (Bucks County); Nicholas A. Micozzie (Delaware County); John L. Myers (Philadelphia County); Dennis M. O’Brien (Philadelphia County); Frank L. Oliver (Philadelphia County); Bernard T. O’Neill (Bucks County); Cherelle Parker (Philadelphia County); John M. Perzel (Philadelphia County); Scott A. Petri (Bucks County); Thomas J. Quigley (Montgomery County); Ronald C. Raymond (Delaware County); James R. Roebuck, Jr. (Philadelphia County); Chris Ross (Chester County); Carole A. Rubley (Chester County); John P. Sabatina, Jr. (Philadelphia County); Joshua Shapiro (Montgomery County); David J. Steil (Bucks County); Elinor Z. Taylor (Chester County); John J. Taylor (Philadelphia County); W. Curtis Thomas (Philadelphia County); Greg Vitali (Delaware County); Ronald G. Waters (Philadelphia County); Katherine M. Watson (Bucks County); Jewell Williams (Philadelphia County); Matthew N. Wright (Bucks County); and Rosita C. Youngblood (Philadelphia County).

PITTSBURGH DIOCESE
Senators Jay Costa, Jr. (Allegheny County); James Ferlo (Allegheny County); Wayne Fontana (Allegheny County); Gerald J. LaVelle (Beaver County); Sean F. Logan (Allegheny County); Robert D. Robbins (Mercer County); J. Barry Stout (Washington County); Representatives Vince Biancucci (Beaver County); Paul Costa (Allegheny County); Peter J. Daley, II (Washington County); Anthony M. DeLuca (Allegheny County); Frank Dermody (Allegheny County); H. William DeWeese (Greene County); Michael Diven (Allegheny County); Shawn Flaherty (Allegheny County); Dan B. Frankel (Allegheny County); Marc J. Gergely (Allegheny County); Nick Kotik (Allegheny County); Frank LaGrotta (Lawrence County); Victor J. Lescovitz (Washington County); John A. Maher (Allegheny County); Joseph F. Markosek (Allegheny County); T. Mark Mustio (Allegheny County); Thomas C. Petrone (Allegheny County); Frank J. Pistella (Allegheny County); Joseph Preston, Jr. (Allegheny County); Sean M. Ramaley (Beaver County); Kenneth W. Ruffing (Allegheny County); Christopher Sainato (Lawrence County); Timothy J. Solobay (Washington County); Michael R. Veon (Beaver County); Don Walko (Allegheny County); and Jake Wheatley (Allegheny County).

SCRANTON DIOCESE
Senators Lisa M. Boscola (Northampton County); John R. Gordner (Northumberland County); Charles D. Lemmond, Jr. (Luzerne County); Robert J. Mellow (Lackawanna County); Raphael J. Musto (Luzerne County); James J. Rhoades (Schuylkill County); Joseph B. Scarnati, III (Jefferson County); Representatives Matthew E. Baker (Tioga County); Fred Belardi (Lackawanna County); Kevin Blaum (Luzerne County); Steven W. Cappelli (Lycoming County); Gaynor Cawley (Lackawanna County); Todd A. Eachus (Luzerne County); Brett O. Feese (Lycoming County); George C. Hasay (Luzerne County); Phyllis Mundy (Luzerne County); Tina Pickett (Bradford County); Mario M. Scavello (Philadelphia County); John J. Siptroth (Monroe County); Edward G. Staback (Lackawanna County); Thomas M. Tigue (Luzerne County); Jim Wansacz (Lackawanna County); and John T. Yudichak (Luzerne County).

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PCC Column July 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.

Cover All Kids…Support CHIP

Health insurance tops the list of concerns for many if not most Pennsylvania families. As the cost of coverage rises faster than most incomes, some working families are finding themselves in a crisis situation. How will they afford insurance coverage, especially for their children?

Currently Governor Edward G. Rendell’s budget proposal for the 2006-2007 fiscal year calls for an additional $14.6 million in state and federal funds to offer health insurance to more children through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Pennsylvania’s CHIP provides insurance coverage to children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medical Assistance. According to the Pennsylvania Insurance Department, one in three Pennsylvania children is enrolled in CHIP or receives Medical Assistance, but there are more than 133,000 who remain uninsured. Officials say one reason many of these children remain uninsured is their parents do not realize that they qualify for CHIP. Another reason is income limits.

The “Cover All Kids” proposal would expand CHIP to all uninsured children in Pennsylvania regardless of the income level of the parents or guardians. Premiums will vary from no-cost for families with lower incomes to a small monthly premium for working families.

The Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children say children who have health insurance are more likely to be immunized, receive regular check-ups and get prompt treatment for common childhood ailments, such as ear infections and asthma. Children who have health insurance are less likely to use costly emergency room services for common ailments treated by a primary care physician; and, children with health insurance do better in school as they are more likely to avoid preventable childhood illnesses.

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) and the Pennsylvania Catholic Health Care Association (PCHA) support the legislation and urge concerned citizens to contact legislators to ask them to vote in favor of the proposal.

“Caring for the sick is one of the core ministries of the Catholic faith, especially children,” said Dr. Robert J. O’Hara, executive director of the PCC. “Expanding CHIP to reach more families is good investment.”

“Catholic health care systems have a long history of serving those in need,” said Sr. Clare Christi Schiefer, OSF, president of the PCHA. “The Catholic health care ministry is committed to providing quality health care to all people. Securing health care coverage for children helps us reach this goal.” She says the mission of Catholic health ministry, in accordance with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, “calls us to be distinguished through ‘service to and advocacy for those people whose social condition puts them at the margins of our society and makes them particularly vulnerable to discrimination.’ We must preserve and strengthen these programs, while at the same time work toward a future of accessible and affordable health care for all.”

Concerned citizens are encouraged to voice their support for expanding the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Contact information for legislators is in the local telephone directory, or citizens can directly e-mail legislators simply using their zip code by logging on to pacatholic.org.

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PCC Column June 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.

Commission Proposed to Investigate Wrongful Convictions

After serving 19 years behind bars, Thomas Doswell was released after DNA evidence clearly proved his innocence in a brutal rape case. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Nationally, 175 people have been exonerated through post-conviction DNA testing. At least eight involved inmates in Pennsylvania. One man spent nearly two decades in prison before being exonerated. Another spent many years on death row.

Legislation cosponsored by Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf (R-Montgomery/Bucks Counties) and Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) to establish an “innocence commission” in Pennsylvania passed in the state Senate. The commission will investigate the underlying causes of wrongful convictions and make recommendations to reduce or eliminate the chance that innocent people could spend time behind bars for crimes they did not commit. If passed, Pennsylvania joins six other states with similar commissions.

At a news conference about the legislation, Sen. Greenleaf said, “DNA technology is a great contribution to criminal justice. Its application has enabled the release of the innocent and the prosecution of perpetrators. It has also demonstrated that mistakes are possible and the justice system is not infallible.”

The Pennsylvania Innocence Commission will serve as a “safety valve” for our criminal justice system. With the trend over the past decade to toughen sentences for a wide range of crimes, and with the possibility of parole less likely for many serving life sentences, Pennsylvania would be wise to undertake this study.

Sen. Costa said, “This legislation is intended to help prosecutors, police, judges, witnesses and crime victims by suggesting better procedures for the investigation and prosecution of criminal offenses to avoid some of the problems we have experienced in the past from misidentification and other issues resulting in wrongful conviction.”

In the name of justice, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) supports this legislation.

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PCC Column May 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.