By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published April 2, 2009
The Georgia Catholic Conference is testifying before committees, talking to lawmakers, huddling with other advocates as the 2009 legislative session moves toward its final days.
There are several proposals the conference is working to pass, as well as others they hope to sidetrack, according to Frank Mulcahy, the executive director for the Georgia Catholic Conference.
On the death penalty, the conference supports Senate Bill 13. It gives prosecutors the option of seeking a penalty of life without parole for an offense. The existing law requires a prosecutor to seek the death penalty on cases first. Senators backed the measure, and it is expected to be considered by the House soon.
On education reform, the conference is watching for Gov. Sonny Perdue’s next move.
A bill backed by the conference changes the Student Scholarship Organization law from last year. It is House Bill 100.
Among other changes, the proposal raises how much a taxpayer can give to the scholarship organization. The new measure allows for up to 75 percent of a taxpayer’s state tax liability to be given to scholorship organizations. The organizations gave the money as grants to students to pay tuition at private schools. The bill erases the current limit of $1,000 for individuals and $2,500 for couples.
The conference backed this measure as it passed both the House and Senate. The measure is now awaiting the governor’s action.
The statewide Catholic scholarship program—G.R.A.C.E.— received $85,000 in 2008 from this program.
On bioethics legislation, the conference has remained neutral about the bill that grabbed most of the attention.
That proposal—House Bill 388—applies to “embryo adoption” or “prenatal adoption”—a practice that raises serious ethical questions under Catholic teaching.
The bill will have no effect in reducing the incidence of embryo creation nor does it provide any new protection for the embryo, according to Mulcahy.
As the proposal was revised in committee, it became apparent the human embryo would be treated as property being exchanged, rather that as a person being adopted, he said.
According to Mulcahy, the bill was intended to provide an adoption process for unused embryos. But since Catholic teaching does not sanction in vitro fertilization, which creates the embryos, the conference could not support legislation that supported the practice.
The conference has remained neutral in light of the Vatican bioethics document, Dignitas Personae.
The bill passed the House and is likely to pass the Senate.
The Georgia House of Representatives passed a resolution urging the U.S. Congress not to adopt the Freedom of Choice Act. A similar measure is awaiting Senate action. The conference was among the activists supporting these resolutions.
The Freedom of Choice Act, which has been introduced in Congress in the past, would create a right to abortion and effectively override all state legislation already adopted, such as notifying a parent before a minor can receive an abortion.
The Catholic Conference hasn’t had the same success with proposals it opposed to tighten laws that affect immigrants.
The Senate passed a bill to restrict driver’s license examinations to English only, except for temporary licenses. The bill also received a favorable recommendation from a House committee. It is Senate Bill 67.
The conference is concerned it harms refugees, those seeking asylum and other immigrants.
Two other measures impacting immigrants have passed one of the legislative chambers. House Bill 2 passed the House and would require recipients of state or local grants to show compliance with SB 529, a controversial immigrant law passed in 2006, which includes participating in a federal program to verify employment eligibility of all newly hired employees.
And Senate Bill 20, which passed the Senate, would prohibit local governments from adopting sanctuary policies to protect undocumented immigrants. The conference opposes the bill out of concern the definition of “sanctuary policies” be read broadly to limit services to immigrants by the church and other organizations.