Budget cuts affect many legislative concerns
State cuts impact families, prisons and farms
By Linda DeVries
For more information on issues being followed by the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, please go to www.wisconsincatholic.com and click on "Issue Briefs" under "Legislative Information."
To contact legislators or to request resources, e-mail Dcn. Paul Grimm at [email protected]
The Wisconsin Catholic Conference is supporting bills before the Legislature and Congress to help family farms, protect human embryos and provide services to needy families, participants at the Green Bay Diocese's Legislative Briefing Day were advised.
John Huebscher, executive director of the WCC -- the civil arm of the state's bishops -- and Dcn. Paul Grimm, diocesan consultant for social concerns, led the forum at Holy Cross Church, Kaukauna.
"These sessions help us better understand how these issues impact people in each diocese," Huebscher said.
"We encourage people to get involved with the issues they are passionate about," Dcn. Grimm said. "The average citizen can effect constructive change. They do this by developing relationships with their legislators, by writing, calling, and personal visits. When they become known as someone who is in it for the long haul, legislators will listen, and they can make a difference."
In addition to providing an overview of the issues and the church's position on them, the session also included information on how to link-up with legislators.
Here are some of the issues that were discussed:
State Budget Shortfall -- Gov. Scott McCallum's plan relies on phasing out the shared revenue program over the next three years. A coalition of state religious leaders has called for fostering the common good, protecting needy persons and families, and maintaining many human services programs.
Family Farm Protection Bill and the National Farm Bill -- The number of small to moderate-sized farms continues to decline as large livestock operations in Wisconsin grow. The church position is that, when land ownership becomes centralized and focuses only on the "bottom line," it compromises the health and welfare of individuals, their communities, and the environment.
Huebscher said the WCC supports the Family Farm Protection Act (SB 445), which supports family farms, explores related environmental issues, and promotes Wisconsin-grown products.
Concerning the National Farm Bill, Grimm said Wisconsin farmers are seeking a fair opportunity to make a living, competitive dairy prices throughout the country, and labeling of food products.
Human Cloning and Embryonic Stem Cell Research -- WCC supports the Human Embryo Protection Act (AB-736), which would prohibit destruction of human embryos for research purposes, ban human cloning, and review regulations on in vitro fertilization's elimination of "excess" embryos created through the process.
The WCC also supports AB-699, which bans human cloning regardless of whether cloned embryos are created for research or reproduction. AB-736 and AB-699 are consistent with the church's belief in the inherent sanctity of every human life, Huebscher said.
The WCC opposes a related bill, SB-379, because it calls for a ban only on reproductive cloning, and permits the cloning of human embryos solely for destruction through scientific research.
Grimm said human cloning bans also will be voted on in Washington.
Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) -- Federal block-grant program supports Wisconsin's Welfare to Work (W2) program and many support services for working poor families. By October 2002, the U.S. Congress must reauthorize TANF, created by the 1996 welfare reform law to replace Aid to Families with Dependent Children.
Applying principles set forth by the U.S. bishops, the WCC says TANF should retain its current level of funding, work toward poverty reduction and improved child well-being, rather than caseload declines. The WCC also says it should modify lifetime limits on assistance to allow for changing economic conditions and circumstances of families with persistent barriers to employment.
Mandatory Coverage of Contraception in Health Insurance Plans -- The church opposes SB-128, passed in October 2001, as a violation of religious freedom because it mandates health plans to cover contraceptive articles and services. It affects Catholic institutions, such as hospitals, diocesan agencies, or parishes, that provide health insurance to their employees.
Prison Ministry -- Because of the state deficit, the Department of Corrections has been asked to cut its budget 6% and eliminate three chaplains. The WCC argues that chaplains help inmates understand the gravity of their crimes and help them develop the spiritual and moral framework needed to reform their lives. Chaplains also provide a link to inmates' families. Research shows that inmates with supportive families, strong faith, and employment are less likely to re-offend and more likely to live responsibly.