Published March 15, 2013
Frank Mulcahy, executive director of the Georgia Catholic Conference, recently provided a legislative update for Catholics in Georgia. March 7 was “crossover day” for the Georgia General Assembly: the 30th legislative day when bills must have been adopted in one legislative house if they are to remain viable for the 2012 session. Below are some of the 2012 legislative highlights as of crossover day.
Supports Abortion-Related Legislation
House Bill 954, which would prohibit an abortion after a fetus has reached 20 weeks’ gestation, passed in the Georgia House of Representatives and will next be considered at a hearing in the state Senate. No hearing date has been set. The Georgia Catholic Conference has supported the bill. Supporters are encouraged to let their state senator know they are in support and also to monitor the status of the bill so it is not weakened as the legislative process continues. The bill passed in the House Feb. 29 by a vote of 102-65.
“We support this bill because it would immediately save lives and bring us closer to our goal of legal protection for all unborn children,” said Mary Boyert, archdiocesan Respect Life director.
“We know that babies in the womb have all their organ systems in place as early as 12 weeks and by 20 weeks all systems necessary for feeling pain are present. Thus, the 20-week limit is very appropriate,” she said. “We encourage everyone to contact their state senator to support HB 954.”
The bill allows for an exception if the life of the mother is at risk.
Another piece of legislation, Senate Bill 438, proposes to prevent funding of abortions through the state employees’ health benefit plan. The Georgia Catholic Conference spoke in favor of the bill. SB 438 passed in the Senate on March 7 by a 33-18 vote.
Supports Assisted Suicide Legislation
House Bill 1114, which would prohibit assisted suicide, passed in the House of Representatives March 7 by a 124-45 vote.
“We are so grateful that the state of Georgia recognizes the need for a law to prohibit assisted suicide, especially after the recent Georgia Supreme Court ruling that struck down the current (and very weak) law on assisted suicide,” wrote Boyert by email.
“Our support for this bill is the same as our support for all life-affirming bills. It is our consistent teaching on the dignity and value of every human life, even the lives of those suffering from serious illness or disabilities. As God is the author of all life, He alone should determine the time of our death.”
Opposes Mandatory Drug Testing for Welfare Beneficiaries
The Senate and House passed Senate Bill 292 and House Bill 861 respectively. These similar bills propose mandatory drug testing for all recipients of state benefits under TANF (the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program). The bill would require impoverished recipients to pay for this testing out of their own funds. In addition, the Senate passed Senate Bill 312, which would require that recipients of food stamps and TANF benefits engage in certain “growth activities.” The Catholic Conference opposed the bills as burdens on the poor without any real benefit to the poor.
Child Abuse Reporting
Senate Bill 355 would expand child abuse reporting requirements so that any adult who has witnessed child abuse or has reliable information that child abuse has occurred must report that information to a law enforcement agency. The Catholic Conference has, so far, preserved any exception from the requirement for information received by a priest in confession. The Senate adopted the measure by a vote of 49 to 2.
Criminal Statute of Limitations
Senate Bill 316 would extend the statute of limitations for a number of child-abuse related crimes committed after July 1, 2012. It passed the Georgia Senate unanimously on Feb. 23.
Religious Liberty/HHS Mandate
In Georgia, Senate Bill 460 attempts to correct the problem caused by the federal Health and Human Services’ contraceptive mandate by allowing a religious exception in Georgia insurance law. The bill passed in the state Senate March 7 by a 38-15 vote.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, sent a letter to all bishops on Friday, March 2, to keep them updated on the U.S. bishops’ efforts related to the HHS mandate.
As indicated in the cardinal’s letter, the bishops and USCCB staff are working on a variety of plans to further their demands for change to the policy of President Obama’s administration. The concerted approach will include negotiation with the White House, grassroots activity and litigation.
The Georgia Catholic Conference continues to oppose punitive immigration legislation. There is no bill as extensive as last year’s House Bill 87, but the Catholic Conference is opposed to Senate Bill 458, which would prohibit undocumented students from attending Georgia post-secondary schools.