The work of state lawmakers may be over following the end of the 2018 legislative session. But the work of citizens concerned about human dignity and the common good must continue, particularly with an eye toward elections this fall, said Jason Adkins, executive director of Minnesota Catholic Conference.
Minnesotans will elect two U.S. senators, a governor and the entire membership of the state House in November.
“These are going to be decisive votes in many ways,” Adkins said. “This is a great opportunity for Catholics to get to know and build relationships with elected officials and their opponents, who may get elected this fall, and talk to them about important issues.”
MCC, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Minnesota, focused a lot of attention this session on helping Catholics to build those relationships and equipping them with the tools to educate and lobby lawmakers. It sponsored three “Capitol 101” sessions to inform Catholics about key issues and help them better understand the legislative process. And its Catholic Advocacy Network worked to keep people updated on policy topics and how to take action.
Adkins credited such efforts in helping to pass a human trafficking and pornography bill — one of MCC’s priorities this session — that requires authorities to further study the connections between human trafficking cases and pornography. The measure, signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton, also sends funds collected from child pornography convictions to the Safe Harbor program, which assists sex trafficking victims.
“It was phenomenal to see the discussion about the public health epidemic of pornography at the Legislature and people on both sides of the aisle unanimously coming together to get this passed,” Adkins said.
The effort illustrates the importance of citizens using their voices to create a sense of urgency on an issue, he said. And it shows that it’s possible to get something important done even when state government is divided between a Republican-led Legislature and Democratic governor.
“This is a perfect example of working incrementally to move the ball forward on key issues … to improve the common good,” Adkins said. “We didn’t ban pornography.
We didn’t solve the human trafficking problem. What we did is connect the two conceptually in the public eye and lay the foundation for future action in this arena. That is an extraordinary success in my view.”
More work ahead
Other MCC priorities faced more difficult challenges at the Legislature, but there were still successes on an educational level, Adkins noted.
• Commercial gestational surrogacy: This was the first session in which people concerned about surrogacy put forward a bill to regulate the practice and ban commercial arrangements in which the surrogates and their brokers would receive compensation.
“We had a lot of success in educating legislators and getting authors for our bill,” Adkins said. “We knew the governor was not going to sign it, so we really focused this session on educating people about the issue. The work on surrogacy will go on. We will continue to advocate for a strong legal framework for limiting it and especially banning the commercial aspect.”
• Wastewater recycling: The MCC supported a proposal to implement wastewater recycling and use so-called “gray water” in construction projects to cut down on waste and the reduce the burden of wastewater recycling on local governments. A bill was introduced but did not move forward. “It’s an ongoing discussion,” Adkins said.
• Affordable housing: Dayton signed a bonding bill that included $50 million in unrestricted bonds for affordable housing, $30 million for supportive housing for those with behavioral health needs and $10 million in General Obligation Bonds to protect and repair existing affordable housing, according to the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, which includes MCC.
• Physician-assisted suicide: There was no movement on this issue by proponents during the 2018 session, Adkins said, but “elections can change things so vigilance is ever required on the issue, and it will continue to be a key priority.” The MCC has worked against efforts to legalize the practice in the state, including as part of a coalition called the Minnesota Alliance for Ethical Healthcare. The future of the debate could be greatly impacted by whether the American Medical Association accepts a report by one of its subcommittees encouraging the body to retain its opposition to assisted suicide, he said. The AMA House of Delegates will consider the issue at its meeting June 9-13 in Chicago.
• Sports gambling: The JRLC network was able to stop a bill from moving forward that would have expanded sports gambling in Minnesota. It will likely return as an issue in a future legislative session. “Every dollar a parent spends on gambling is something that’s not being invested for their child’s future, for the well-being of their family,” Adkins said.
Having an impact
As the state looks ahead to the fall elections, Catholics interested in educating others — including legislators — on issues that promote human dignity and the common good can use the MCC’s Catholic Advocacy Network as a resource. Sign up at MNCatholic.org and click on “Join the Catholic Advocacy Network.”
MCC is also planning another Catholics at the Capitol event. It will be held on Feb. 19, 2019, at the RiverCentre in St. Paul. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, will be among the speakers. More details will be released at a later time. Last year’s Catholics at the Capitol drew more than 1,000 people from around the state to listen to issue briefings and meet with state legislators.