Legislative issues explored
Topics include campaign finance reform, farms, wages and child care
By Joanne Flemming
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.
Campaign finance reform. Huebscher said Congress and the state
Legislature know it is important, but "don't want to do anything
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
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
Huebscher said "Catholics emerged as the swing group" in the 2000
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
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
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%
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
The more actively involved people are in church, the more likely
those values will be reflected at the polls, he concluded.