By ANDREW NELSON | Published February 14, 2013
ATLANTA—The Georgia Catholic Conference aims to help shape state laws on key topics important to the church—from education tax credits and abortion to human trafficking.
The annual Catholic Day at the Capitol, held this year on Jan. 29, drew more than 100 people to the Statehouse, said organizers. The participants got a taste of what it means to represent the church in the marble hallways filled with lawmakers and lobbyists.
Frank Mulcahy, the GCC executive director, said he views the day as training for people interested in current events, but his bigger goal is to make it easy for Catholics to get involved in reaching out to legislators. The intent is to make people comfortable so they visit the Statehouse on their own to talk with their hometown representatives, Mulcahy said.
Many of the participants shared a passion for politics and were interested in hearing the church’s official views on legislation.
Krissy Uperaft, of St. James the Apostle Church, McDonough, said she wants her voice to be heard about the abortion issue. She said she is pro-life and wants lawmakers to hear from people who stand against abortion. Uperaft said she was surprised to learn some of her legislators opposed last year’s law that limits abortions after 20 weeks.
“I have to keep that in mind when I vote,” she said.
Ben Gadson, a retired parole officer, attends Mass at St. Pius X Church, Conyers. An area of interest to him was the church’s stance on the death penalty and how it works on that issue with elected leaders.
“That’s something I am really interested in. I’m not really saying I am for it or against it, but I do know that it needs to be revisited,” he said.
Sandra Sellers, of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Atlanta, said participating in the Catholic Day was a way for her to “stand up and be counted.” She thinks more churchgoers should show up at events to share Catholic perspectives.
On Jan. 29 Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory opened the day in the House of Representatives. He told the lawmakers, “You have been called providentially to a vocation of service, in revitalizing and improving the state of Georgia.”
In a Feb. 1 interview, Mulcahy highlighted several areas the GCC will be focused on as the 40-day legislative session unfolds:
Last year, the pro-life community celebrated the passage of a late-term abortion law. Called the fetal pain law, it prohibited abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy with some exemptions. The law was passed to limit abortions based on when a fetus may feel pain, a developmental marker whose onset is medically debated.
Before the law went into effect, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in Fulton County Superior Court.
Mulcahy said this lawsuit may pave the way for Georgia courts to recognize abortion as a right under the state constitution, something the state court has never done.
Mulcahy said none of the provisions outlined in the law have gone into effect. And he does not see any resolution to the case until later this year and then it will likely be appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court, further delaying its implementation.
“I’d hate to see a decision from the Georgia Supreme Court that recognized any element or particular right to an abortion,” he said.
He said so far in 2013 there doesn’t appear to be any similar bills the church would support.
Education Tax Credits
This issue of education tax credits will be discussed a lot this session, Mulcahy said, with several measures to change the tax credit.
Archdiocesan Catholic schools are assisted by G.R.A.C.E. Scholars. In 2010, some 2,105 contributors gave more than $3.7 million to the student scholarship organization of the dioceses of Atlanta and Savannah. Some 619 students in Catholic schools have received scholarships from G.R.A.C.E., according to the website (www.gracescholars.org).
The original law sets up “student scholarship organizations” that accept payments from people and corporations. The money pays for scholarships to families wanting to send children to private schools, including Catholic schools. Donors receive a state tax credit.
The donations are capped at $1,000 per individual, $2,500 for a married couple and 75 percent of tax liability for corporations.
But many parents have been shut out of supporting the Catholic schools’ SSO because 2012 donations hit the $51 million maximum ceiling for the program in September, earlier than most people had filed for the tax credit, said Mulcahy.
So the GCC is supporting a measure that will re-set the maximum to $80 million so more people can support schools and earn the tax credit, he said.
Also, the GCC is endorsing a move to reallocate how the tax credits are used. Mulcahy said a good change would be one that emphasizes giving by individuals. A proposal being considered would limit corporate donations to 25 percent of the total tax credits, leaving the rest to individuals to support schools.
The program should be a way for more individuals to show their support for this program, not being squeezed out by corporations, he said.
The GCC is working to pass two measures to combat sexual exploitation and involuntary servitude.
One is a mandate that some public areas, such as bus shelters or doctor’s offices, post a poster with a hotline number that people forced to live in those situations can reach out to for help.
Another measure Mulcahy called a “shaming” law that would post pictures of people convicted of the crime in public areas, perhaps a website. The convicted people would also register on a sexual offender registry, he said.
Death Penalty And Gun Control
Both these issues have little movement at the Statehouse, Mulcahy said.
Lawmakers won’t change any laws on the death penalty unless there is a groundswell of support to do that, and there isn’t a lot of public pressure to change things, he said. And the same issue is facing gun control legislation, he said. It is a “hearts and minds issue” for both, he said.
“The biggest thing we need is the people of Georgia to recognize the problems with the death penalty, the injustices of it,” he said.
For more information, visit the Georgia Catholic Conference’s website at www.georgiacc.org.