By Maria Wiering
For The Visitor
Everything is connected. It’s a point at the core of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’,” and it’s an axiom the Minnesota Catholic Conference plans to emphasize during the Minnesota State Legislature’s 2018 session, which begins Feb. 20.
“The purpose … is to transcend the partisan divide, and at the same time, help legislators understand the connection between the issues,” said Jason Adkins, MCC executive director.
Adkins identified two themes — fighting the commodification of the human person and caring for “our common home” — that will shape the crux of the MCC’s work this session. Because Minnesota’s government is divided between a Democratic governor and Republican-led legislature, there’s not a lot of hope of getting significant work done, Adkins said. So, as the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Minnesota, the MCC is looking for places where laws can be “prudently improved,” he said.
Within the MCC’s first theme, fighting human commodification, the MCC is backing legislation that aims to create new fines and penalties for illegal pornography activities, such as child pornography use, that will fund the state’s Safe Harbor Program, which fights human sex trafficking and helps victims.
The bill “publicly recognizes the link between pornography and human trafficking,” Adkins said. “Pornography is really just prostitution caught on film.”
Within the same theme, the MCC is also supporting the creation of a regulatory framework around the practice of commercial gestational surrogacy in the state, based on recommendations made by the 2016 legislative commission that studied the issue.
Prior to this year, the MCC had opposed the creation of a surrogacy market through legislation. MCC’s proposed regulatory framework would allow some surrogacy arrangements, but commercial surrogacy — in which surrogates and brokers receive compensation — would be banned.
Like the MCC’s approach to ending abortion, Adkins said, supporting robust surrogacy regulation in a state without any is an incremental approach toward “a better solution.”
He noted that it was especially appropriate to focus on the issue of human commodification in 2018, the 50th anniversary of “Humanae Vitae,” Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical affirming the church’s teaching on marriage, sex and birth control.
“What we see in human trafficking, surrogacy and pornography are really the natural logical outcomes from a broader embrace of contraception, or to say that sex can be separated from procreation,” Adkins said. “We have procreation outside of sex with surrogacy, or sex outside of procreation in terms of human trafficking and pornography. It’s what happens when you dissect the unitive and procreative aspects of the marital act and take them outside of marriage. These are the results.”
The second of the MCC’s 2018 themes — care for “our common home” — involves three pieces of legislation. The first is to enshrine in Minnesota law that the right to water is a fundamental human right and that access to safe drinking water is a policy that always should be considered in decision-making about the state’s natural resources. The legislation is the Human Right to Water Bill, H.F.1095/S.F. 1968.
The second legislative piece aims to combat water scarcity issues by allowing system implementation for wastewater recycling, or the use of “gray water” — such as water collected from rain gutters — in construction projects, thereby reducing wastewater treatment burdens on local governments. The practice of diverting wastewater for use is limited in some municipalities, Adkins said, and this legislation aims to encourage the use of gray water systems.
The third part is affordable housing. MCC is backing legislation that would promote the preservation of existing low-income housing and bonds to build more.
“Connecting the cry of the earth with the cry of the poor [and] care for our common home also means not just natural ecology but human ecology, and affordable housing is a key factor in fighting poverty,” Adkins said.
He said the water issues are likely to draw bipartisan support.
Going forward, MCC expects to select advocacy themes that will combine two or three pieces of legislation for each session. Adkins hopes this approach makes its objectives clearer, both to legislators and Catholics.
“People are often confused about what ties our advocacy together,” Adkins said, noting that many other policy-focused organizations have a narrow focus. “We want to be more intentional about saying these things are connected. This is why we’re doing this: because we want to fight the commodification of human persons, and we want to care for our common home.”
Adkins anticipates that the session’s big issue will be state tax law conformity with the federal tax bill Congress passed in December. MCC is exploring how the law might impact larger families with deductions and credits, and how it might affect charitable contributions. Adkins is optimistic that the 529 savings plan expansion for tuition will have a positive impact on Catholic education.
The Minnesota Catholic Conference is launching a new initiative: three Capitol 101 events to help Catholics understand the legislative process and key issues, and visit the State Capitol. The event will run 9 a.m. to noon Feb. 26, March 16 and April 17. For more information, visit mncatholic.org.
It also co-sponsors the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition and its annual Day on the Hill, an ecumenical effort to combat poverty and work for social justice, March 13. For more information, visit jrlc.org.