Eye on the Capitol

Common Good Must be Focal Point of Budget
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Capitol Update

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Archbishop Issues Statements on Unions and Rights of Workers

Right of Workers Statement Feb 16, 2011

Capitol Report Newsletter

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WCC Policy Positions Bring a Nonpartisan Vision of Hope to Legislative Debates

Eye on the Capitol
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Capitol Report Newsletter

• Voters Change Face of State Government
• Director’s Corner
• NewParishAdministrator
• Issues Likely to Surface in 2011 Legislature
• NewPaydayLending Laws in 2011

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Eye on the Capitol: New Governors Must Hit the Ground Running

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The more campaign seasons I experience the more grateful I become to the people who invented the “mute” button on my remote control.

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We often debate the issue of how much government should do, but that rarely ends the argument. For even when we can agree that government has a role in addressing an issue, we often debate which level of government is best suited to do so.

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Wisconsin Update

Advocacy on Health Care Reform Still Timely
The House of Representatives remains poised to act on federal health care legislation with Senate action possible some time in the coming weeks.  There is still time to contact Members of Congress and assert your support for the bishops' message on health care.  Please act now!
Bill to Revamp Sex Education Slowed Until 2010
Assembly Bill 458, which takes control of sex education curriculum from local school boards and advisory committees and mandates that districts which offer education use a comprehensive curriculum, passed the Assembly this week on a vote of 48 to 43.  The WCC testified in opposition to it and its Senate companion bill at a public hearing in October and provided a press release regarding this action.  The WCC also issued a press release responding to Planned Parenthood's criticism of the bill's opponents. 
The Senate is likely to consider the bill in January when the Legislature reconvenes.  The WCC urges readers to contact their Senators to ask them not to advance the bill.  To find contact information for your Wisconsin State Senator, visit the WCC's E-Advocacy webpage and enter your zip code, or call the State Legislative Hotline, 1-800-362-9472.
WCC Backs Parity for Mental Illness and Substance Abuse
On October 28, the WCC testified in support of Assembly Bill 512, which enhances health insurance coverage requirements in Wisconsin for mental illness and substance abuse.  The bill will ensure that those who work for businesses with 50 or fewer employees who suffer from these conditions receive the same care and treatment as those who have physical health issues.
In her testimony before the Assembly Committee on Health and Healthcare Reform, WCC Associate Director Kim Wadas noted, "The human person is more than a physical body.  Our human nature blends the physical with the intellectual and spiritual.  The latter two may be harder to quantify, but are no less deserving of our attention.  Further, each of us possesses an innate dignity with which, in the words of the Founders, we are endowed by the Creator.  This human dignity is present even when one is physically, mentally, or emotionally afflicted."
The WCC will offer similar testimony in support of AB 512's Senate companion bill, Senate Bill 362, before the Senate Committee on Health, Health Insurance, Privacy, Property Tax Relief, and Revenue at a public hearing this coming Tuesday.
No Action on Window Legislation This Year
The Legislature adjourned for the year without taking action on Assembly Bill 453 or Senate Bill 319.  Both bills would set aside the statute of limitations for three years to permit people who were sexually abused as children to sue those responsible.  As reported in the last edition of the Update, the WCC opposes both bills and Bishops Callahan and Listecki testified against them at a public hearing in October.
Legislature in Recess Until January
The Legislature yesterday ended its scheduled floor sessions for 2009.  Regular sessions will resume January 19, 2010.  However, legislators may return before the end of the year in special session.  Legislative committees will continue to meet and hold hearings.

WCC Opposes Statutes of Limitations Waiver

Bishop William P. Callahan of Milwaukee and Bishop Jerome E. Listecki of La Crosse testified in opposition to Assembly Bill 453 before the Assembly Committee on Children and Families.  AB 453 would, if passed, temporarily remove the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases and permit civil suits, no matter how old, to be brought in court against both alleged perpetrators and their employers.  The bill would also permanently remove the statute of limitations for future civil actions.
As stated in Bishop Listecki's testimony, these bills could significantly affect churches, private and parochial schools, ministries, and other non-profit groups.  In his testimony, Bishop Callahan described the various actions taken by the Archdiocese thus far to compassionately serve the victims/survivors of child abuse and reiterated the Church's commitment to protecting children.
Several other opponents to the legislation noted the bill's inherent unfairness.  Although the bill would allow suits to be brought by any victim/survivor, the doctrine of "sovereign immunity" bars suits against government bodies for the negligent supervision of their employees, meaning public entities would not be held liable for the same decades old criminal activity of perpetrator employees as those employed by private entities.  Also, because there is a cap on damages against government agencies, different victims would not be provided with equal recourse.
Please contact Members of the Legislature and urge opposition to AB 453, and its companion, Senate Bill 319.  Please emphasize the inherent inequity of this legislation and its potential impact on parishioners and current Church employees who are not culpable for wrongdoing committed decades ago.  To find contact information for your Wisconsin State Representative or Senator, visit our E-Advocacy webpage and enter your zip code, or call the State Legislative Hotline, 1-800-362-9472.

Charities Director Briefs Lawmakers On Payday Lending

The director of Catholic Charities of the La Crosse diocese joined several other experts in the State Capitol on September 16 to make the case for strong regulation of the payday lending industry in Wisconsin.
Deacon Richard Sage, whose agency operates family financial counseling services across the 19 counties of the diocese, informed over 50 legislators and staff of the hardship that individuals and families endure when they are "ensnared in unregulated payday loans."
Under current law, while the Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) must license all payday lenders operating in the state, it currently does not have the authority to regulate the amount of a loan, the interest charged, or the number of times a loan can be "rolled over."  
Sage asked legislators to support Assembly Bill 392, which prohibits payday lenders from assessing finance charges that exceed 36% per year.  The bill also gives the DFI the authority to enforce the new regulations.  The bill is expected to have a public hearing in early October.


Arguing needy families in Wisconsin should not be abandoned to predatory practices most people us would find intolerable, the Wisconsin Catholic Conference (WCC) is supporting legislative efforts to place stronger regulations on the payday loan industry.

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Wisconsin Supreme Court Upholds Church Rights in Employment Cases, Affirms Right of Conscience

In a July 23rd ruling, the Wisconsin Supreme Court clarified the scope of the "ministerial exemption" that insulates churches from government interference in personnel matters.

In a 4-3 decision, the court ruled that in determining whether a position in a religious organization is exempt from employment discrimination rules it is necessary to ask: 1) does the organization exist primarily to worship and spread the faith? and 2) How important or closely linked is the employee's work to the fundamental mission of the organization?

The Court ruled that this approach is less intrusive to churches than a "quantitative approach" that analyzes the amount of time the employee spends on religious duties. The court also strongly affirmed the right of conscience in the Wisconsin Constitution and held that it provides "expansive protections for religious liberty."

The ruling decided the case of Coulee Catholic Schools vs. the Labor and Industrial Review Commission (LIRC) and Ostland.

WCC Issues Action Alert on Health Care Reform

The WCC this week issued an Action Alert on the federal health care legislation now moving through Congress. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and other pro-life groups are very concerned that the health care proposals being considered in both houses would mandate abortion coverage and weaken existing conscience protections. The USCCB Pro-Life Secretariat yesterday issued the following update:

"The health care debate has reached a critical stage in Congress. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee has approved a bill, after defeating a number of pro-life amendments. But, this bill is waiting for the Senate Finance Committee to complete work on the aspects of reform over which it has jurisdiction so the bills can be combined. The Finance Committee is trying to produce a bipartisan bill that addresses key criticisms of the Democratic-only bills moving forward thus far.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has interrupted the markup of a House "tri-committee" bill to see what can be worked out on a number of key issues that are blocking broader support for the legislation, including pro-life concerns. Two other House committees passed the bill earlier this week, but it is Energy and Commerce that has jurisdiction over the parts of the bill where pro-life concerns are most pertinent. If these concerns are not worked out by consensus among Energy and Commerce committee members we will soon be writing to the committee specifically supporting amendments to address them."

Update readers are urged to call or email their federal legislators through the WCC Action Alert, asking them to support health care reform that truly respects the life and dignity of all human beings.



Summary of State Budget
The State Senate and Assembly passed the Conference Committee version of the state budget on June 26, 2009.  After amending the bill by veto, the Governor signed the budget into law on June 29.  The following summarizes issues of interest to the WCC. 
Foster Care and Kinship Care.  Increases foster care rates by 2.5% for relatives and by 5% for non-relatives beginning on January 1, 2011.  Fully funds kinship care benefits.
Foster Parent Training.  Funds a statewide foster parent training program.
Child Care Rating System.  Directs the Department of Children and Families to return to the Joint Finance Committee with a specific plan for establishing a state-wide quality rating system for child care providers receiving Wisconsin Shares subsidy payments.
Contracts for School Busing.  Permits Milwaukee Public Schools when withdrawing busing services for families that have two or more children attending the same nonpublic school building to offer each family a single transportation contract instead.
Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP).  Increases regulation and accountability in the MPCP, including imposing new testing requirements.  Requires MPCP schools to comply with school records laws, but allows for transfer of Catholic school records to the Archdiocese if parents agree to this arrangement.  Requires bachelor's degrees for MPCP teachers, but allows those teachers who have 5 years of continuous service to apply for a waiver that will allow them to continue to teach while obtaining a degree. 
Four-Year-Old Kindergarten Grants.  Provides funding for 4K programs, including start-up funding and grant preference for "community approaches" to four-year-old kindergarten. 
BadgerCare Plus Coverage of Childless Adults.  Supports expansion of coverage for childless adults statewide beginning on July 1, 2009. 
BadgerCare Plus Program Eligibility.  Deletes the term "unborn child" from parts of the statute pertaining to program eligibility.
Family Planning Waiver for Men.  Expands eligibility for contraceptive services to men ages 15-44 who meet the specified qualifications of the Medical Assistance family planning waiver program. 
Children's Long-Term Support Program.  Increases funding for Medicaid-eligible children with disabilities or severe emotional disturbances with at-home or community-based care. 
Mental Health and Substance Abuse.  Increases funding for community-based mental health and substance abuse treatment for low-income persons.
W-2 Eligibility for Pregnant Women.  Extends eligibility for a monthly cash benefit payment to women with no other children who are in the 3rd trimester of pregnancy and are not able to work because of a medically verified at-risk pregnancy. 
Instate Tuition for Undocumented Students.  Provides that a person who is a citizen of another country is exempt from nonresident tuition if that person meets certain requirements. 
Criminal Justice Reform Initiative.  Redirects prison spending by reducing the time spent in prison for certain non-violent offenders and by increasing the use of community corrections. 
Tax-Exempt Housing.  Allows certain non-profit providers of low-income housing and housing for the aged to use rent income for multiple purposes and to retain tax-exempt status.  Requires that eligible homes for the aged be owned by "benevolent" organizations. 
Domestic Partnership Registry and Benefits.  Directs counties to permit same sex couples to register as domestic partners and receive selected benefits.
Pharmacy Contraception Mandate.  Mandates that all pharmacies have a duty to dispense and deliver lawfully prescribed contraceptives to a patient without delay when presented with a valid prescription.  No exemption exists for religious health care institutions.
Insurance Contraception Mandate.  Mandates that certain employee health insurance policies include contraceptive coverage.  No exemption exists for religious institutions.
Upcoming Hearings of Interest
(N.B.  Only bills of interest are flagged.  In most cases, committees will be considering other bills as well.)
Senate Committee on Education
11am, Thu., July 9, 201 SE
SB-41. School Environmental Quality (Sullivan) Directs DPI to create Indoor Environmental Quality in Schools Task Force to make recommendations for development of a model management for maintaining indoor environmental quality in public and private schools.
SB-154School Safety (Legislative Council) School safety plans, pupil records and school bullying.