The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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March 23, 2001 Issue
Local News

Legislative issues explored

Topics include campaign finance reform, farms, wages and child care

By Joanne Flemming
Compass Correspondent

Campaign finance reform, family farms, minimum wage, child care and criminal justice are among the issues facing federal and state governments that the church is most concerned about participants at a legislative briefing session were told.

John Huebscher, Wisconsin Catholic Conference executive director, and Dcn. Paul Grimm, Green Bay Diocese social concerns consultant, led the session on the diocesan campus for parish representatives and other interested persons.

Key issues

Campaign finance reform. Huebscher said Congress and the state Legislature know it is important, but "don't want to do anything about it."

Catholic social teaching emphasizes "the principle of participation, that is people have the right and responsibility to be involved in the affairs of the community," he continued.

Catholics are urged to look at how this issue affects increased citizen participation and the number running for office. The important thing is the "big picture" or how the common good is affected.

Family Farms. In a discussion about mega-farms and their effect on family farms, Dcn. Grimm noted that family farmers are "obeying the rules, but not breaking even, not getting just reimbursement for their labors."

With the mega-farms, decisions about local agriculture are "being made further and further away ... in other states and countries. The local interest is lost."

He said it seems to be an issue people either don't understand or don't care about.

Minimum wage. Going from $5.15 to $6.85 an hour.

Child care in Wisconsin. Huebscher said Wisconsin Works, or W-2, will be five years old this year. The people it has affected still have needs especially with affordable child care.

He said the way the law is, workers are better off when they make $8 per hour. When they reach $8.50 per hour, they lose their food stamps, which means they have less disposable income at month's end. Things improve as wages increase to $10 to $14 per hour, but then they lose child care subsidies and BadgerCare health care. Again they have less disposable income.

If the state wants people to continue to work, the demand for child care needs to be met, he said.

Criminal justice. Dcn. Grimm said "the death sentence is a tough issue with strong feelings on both sides." He described the "innocents' protection act" which advocates using DNA evidence whenever possible to prove people's innocence." Ninety-five people have come off death rows because DNA testing proved their innocence.

Voting behavior

Huebscher said "Catholics emerged as the swing group" in the 2000 presidential election.

A study by the Georgetown University Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate analyzed voting behavior. That survey showed that people in the Northeast and the Midwest were more likely to be Democrats than Republican and that neither could rely on the Catholic vote.

Huebscher said the study found that the more Catholics went to Mass and the more they were involved in their faith, the more likely they were to vote for George W. Bush.

When the study looked at issues, it found that Catholics felt that improving government services was more important than a tax cut.

In Wisconsin, 62% of Catholics surveyed supported that position; 47% felt that society had a responsibility for helping the poor.

When asked where the church stood on issues, Huebscher said: 94% of respondents knew the church opposes the death penalty; 96% knew that it opposes assisted suicide; 75% knew it favors debt relief for highly indebted poor countries.

However, said Huebscher, the survey found that only 15% of the people nationwide agreed with these positions. In Wisconsin, 18% did.

Another survey question asked people if homilies should discuss political topics. Huebscher said: 60% said sermons should support specific laws; 52% said homilies should emphasize contacting legislators; 49% thought homilies should talk about specific issues and their implications.

Only 13% favored homilies endorsing specific candidates; 10% favored homilies supporting specific parties.

Dcn. Grimm pointed out that "if we told people how to vote, we would antagonize more than we would gain." He added that getting "the word out" about the church's positions on issues was important.

The more actively involved people are in church, the more likely those values will be reflected at the polls, he concluded.

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