Published February 22, 2007
The Archdiocese of Atlanta is advocating for or against various bills that have been introduced in the 2007 session of the Georgia General Assembly in light of Catholic social teaching. And the church of North Georgia invites members to join in the legislative process by participating in the first Catholic Day at the Capitol on Tuesday, Feb. 27, to exercise the virtue of responsible citizenship.
A legislative briefing on bills by the Catholic Communications Office will be held at 8:30 a.m. and repeated at 11 a.m. at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for those attending the event.
Participants may view the opening of the day’s legislative session, meet their legislators, and have lunch on their own. An optional tour of the Capitol will be given at 1 p.m. Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory will serve as chaplain of the day and offer the opening prayer in the House of Representatives at 3 p.m. He will also speak at noon in the Capitol Rotunda at a press conference sponsored by the Georgia Moratorium Campaign on the death penalty, a campaign that calls for a temporary halt of executions.
The archdiocese encourages Catholics to reflect on the Catholic theological perspective on key pieces of legislation being debated this year in the General Assembly, which began its 40-day legislative session on the second Monday of January. The session usually ends by late March.
Frank Mulcahy, executive director of the Georgia Catholic Conference who represents Archbishop Gregory and Savannah Bishop J. Kevin Boland, encouraged all civic-minded Catholics to participate in this first event that planners hope will be held annually.
“We’re getting to be a large enough block of the population that the legislators will listen, particularly in certain areas around Atlanta,” he said. And “the archbishop has got the credibility and talent to get up and make a speech people will remember and make an impact with the legislators.”
In the area of education, the archdiocese is actively lobbying in favor of SB 10, the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Act, which has already passed the state Senate and would provide scholarships for public school students with disabilities so that they could attend other public or private schools, including sectarian schools. A bill in the House, HB 199, is similar but includes additional requirements.
Mulcahy said that this bill “is important because parents of special needs kids are always looking for every option they can find to help their kids, and this gives them some other choices in finding some options.”
Another education bill the Georgia Catholic Conference supports is SB 85, the Equal Access to Extracurricular Activities Bill, which would allow home school or private school students to participate in extracurricular activities at the public school they would otherwise attend.
The top priority among pro-life bills is HB 147, which would require that a woman having an abortion have an ultrasound or sonogram and be given the opportunity to view the image of the unborn child. The bill effectively adds a new requirement to the Woman’s Right to Know Act and also would add criminal penalties for failure to comply with the ultrasound requirement as well as other requirements of the WRTK law.
Mulcahy said that most doctors already do sonograms and that it’s recommended by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology even in early stages of pregnancy prior to an abortion. He said that the House bill as of Feb. 17 had no exception for cases in which the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest, while a similar Senate bill, SB 66, did. The archdiocese favors the House bill, which is more comprehensive.
Mulcahy added that the archdiocese would not support the bill if that provision for rape or incest were included because it can too easily be used as a “large loophole” for doctors or women when there has been no rape to avoid having the test. He also emphasized that under the bill any woman who did not want to see the sonogram would have the right to decline viewing it.
Mary Boyert, director of the Pro-Life Office, wrote in an e-mail to pro-life advocates that women who’ve been raped “need our compassion and sympathy; she doesn’t need to be further victimized by being denied information that might help her decide to carry her child to term.”
Another pro-life bill, the Prohibition of Abortion House Bill 1 introduced by Rep. Bobby Franklin, recites a long list of presumed ills arising from Roe v. Wade and makes the performance of abortion in Georgia a felony. The archdiocese supports the prohibition of abortion but HB1 is not designed to realistically achieve that result, reported Mulcahy.
Regarding the death penalty, the archdiocese opposes HB 185, which amends existing law related to the number of jurors’ votes needed to impose the death penalty. Current law requires all 12 jurors to recommend the death penalty, while HB 185 would require only nine votes to impose it. It would only affect jury deliberations related to the death penalty and would not change the requirement for a unanimous jury decision as to guilt or innocence. Mulcahy will speak against the bill because it could increase use of the death penalty.
Another bill that the archdiocese supports, SB 21, allows a judge to impose a penalty of life without parole in addition to possible sentences of the death penalty or a life sentence with the possibility of parole for the murder of law enforcement personnel. While the law continues to allow the death penalty, the possibility of life without parole provides an option less than the death penalty but more severe than life in prison with the possibility of parole.
The archdiocese approves of HB 24 to revise advance directives, legislation that extensively addresses current laws related to living wills and durable power of attorney for health care. The bill substantially retains provisions that have been important to the Georgia Catholic Conference, such as the prohibition against withholding or withdrawing health care for a pregnant woman if the fetus is viable. The bill imposes no requirement that appears contrary to Catholic teaching related to the end of life nor is there any provision that would prevent anyone from specifying their desire that end-of-life decisions be made in accordance with Catholic teaching, which distinguishes between providing ordinary means and extraordinary means of care to extend the life of a gravely ill patient.
Mulcahy explained that the bill combines the principles in living wills and durable power of attorney into one law where a person could designate an individual who understands his Catholic values and who can make medical decisions on his behalf as needed, which would be expressed in an advance directive document. This would obviate a separate living will specifying one’s directives, but if a person already has one it will still be valid.
Regarding immigration, Mulcahy said there are a number of bills that tacitly target immigrants while not mentioning a specific group, and which increase relatively minor violations to felony status. For example, SB 5 would increase to a felony when a motor vehicle driver is convicted of failing to have a driver’s license for the third time and would require the jailer to verify the nationality of the individual; SB 50 adds a requirement that notaries public be legal residents of the United States and imposes a felony penalty on notaries who do not meet the statutory criteria for a notary. SB 23 allows a court to consider the legality of a prisoner’s presence in the United States in imposing sentences in criminal cases. SB 25 requires that a person have a Georgia driver’s license in order to register an auto and obtain a tag, and the bill increases the penalty to a felony for fraudulently securing a tag or license. Undocumented persons with felonies are subject to deportation after serving their sentences or paying their fines.
The archdiocese opposes these bills for imposing a disproportionate penalty for the crime and not reflecting sound social policy in their attempt to deport undocumented immigrants.
“We shouldn’t be escalating everything to a felony—that’s aside from whether or not it adversely affects immigrants. A felony can get you in jail for a year or more and takes away your right to vote or hold public office or holding a gun and bars you from any profession which needs a license. For immigrants it’s practically a 100 percent bar against ever getting citizenship,” Mulcahy noted.
Furthermore, to be incarcerated for a year for driving without a driver’s license “would be an incredible waste of resources. Most people would like to think that people who commit violent crimes would be put in jail but … traffic violations shouldn’t be punished that way.”
The attorney stressed the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Justice for Immigrants campaign position that Congress must make the needed immigration reforms, and they must be comprehensive rather than “enforcement only.”
Mulcahy believes the day at the Capitol will be a fruitful and educational endeavor for participants and will “show that the Catholic population of North Georgia is increasing, and we can effectively speak out on many issues and give a moral perspective.”
He said that participants will be given talking points on designated bills and are encouraged to also speak with their legislators on one or two issues.
“I’ll be happy to see people coming down learning how the process works and seeing that each individual has an impact who goes and speaks to his own legislator,” he said. “By and large they will find legislators will come off the floor to talk to their constituents and treat them politely. If they agree with the position they will say that, and if they don’t they will give their reasons. … It helps to say, if nothing else, … I’m Catholic and I’m pro-life and think immigrants ought to be treated fairly, and we need not impose penalties on them and (should) wait for the federal government to lay down policies related to immigrants. It’s a federal issue, and the federal government needs to get something done.”