Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Georgia Catholic Conference outlines 2016 legislative priorities

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published January 21, 2016

ATLANTA—Public financial support of crisis pregnancy centers is one of the priorities for the Georgia Catholic Conference as lawmakers get to work in the 2016 legislative session at the Statehouse.

Frank Mulcahy, executive director of the conference, said the intent is to seek some state aid for pregnancy centers which offer counseling to women with unplanned pregnancies and provide alternatives to abortion.

The Georgia Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Diocese of Savannah and the Atlanta Archdiocese, represents the bishops of Georgia in matters of legislation and with state elected leaders.

No legislation has been introduced yet to help crisis pregnancy centers, but the item matches a goal broadly outlined by Senate Republicans in their list of priorities. The goal is “expanding women’s access to pregnancy resource centers and their counseling and family planning services.”

There are scores of crisis pregnancy centers around the state. In the Atlanta area, the Pregnancy Aid Clinic is supported by Catholics and Catholic organizations such as the Knights of Columbus and the Order of Malta. It has offices in Hapeville and Roswell and operates a mobile clinic. The clinic offers ultrasounds, pregnancy tests, counseling and baby clothes and supplies.

Tax dollar support of pregnancy care centers would be new in Georgia. However, it has been done in states such as Indiana, Florida and Pennsylvania.

Georgia drivers since 2006 have had the choice to support abortion alternatives by buying the Choose Life vanity license plate, which directs $10 of the fee to a pool of money reserved for nonprofit pregnancy centers. The first plates were issued in 2007. According to Choose Life of Georgia, Inc., most recently $369,000 has been raised with fees collected from people who buy the license plates.

Catholic Day at the Capitol

The initiative for public support of the pregnancy centers will be discussed at the upcoming Catholic Day at the Capitol.

At the Thursday, Feb. 4, event, all Georgia Catholics are invited to attend a presentation on priorities set by the bishops for this legislative session and training in reaching out to state lawmakers. Then they are given an opportunity to engage with legislators at the Statehouse. The legislative briefing will be held at 8:30 a.m. at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, adjacent to the Capitol, followed by viewing the opening of the Senate for the day’s business, and then an opportunity to contact legislators. There is a wrap-up session before the event ends at 2 p.m. Bishop David P. Talley is scheduled to be the Senate chaplain of the day.

Student Scholarship Organizations tax credit

Other priorities for the Georgia Catholic Conference include legislation that will enhance and expand Student Scholarship Organizations, such as GRACE Scholars, which serves diocesan Catholic schools in the two Georgia dioceses.

The conference would like revisions to the law, such as increasing its accountability by means-testing families using national financial aid services. Mulcahy said Diane Starkovich, Ph.D., superintendent of Catholic schools in the Atlanta Archdiocese, testified before the Georgia Education Commission last summer on the issue.

He said the goal is to increase the accountability and efficiency of the scholarship program. The organizations rely on residents and corporations to redirect tax dollars to the nonprofits, which then award partial scholarships for students attending non-public schools. The SSOs are so popular that the annual ceiling on the state tax credit is typically reached on Jan. 1.

The archdiocese has proposed that the law be revised to increase the maximum tax credit available for SSOs, currently capped at $58 million, while ensuring more transparency. Other recommendations for greater accountability are that administrative costs to run the SSOs should be limited to a maximum of 5 percent and the organization should be required to use a national financial aid service to verify the income of recipients and make clear the criteria to award scholarships. Also, students should take national tests so parents can be assured of the school’s quality.

“It’s a popular program. A lot of people like it. We should be enhancing it. We think it’s our responsibility as educators to assure parents they are getting a quality education,” Mulcahy said.

Mental disability in death penalty cases

The Georgia Catholic Conference is also supporting legislation to provide greater protection to mentally disabled individuals convicted of potentially capital crimes so the defendant’s mental disability need be proven by a lesser standard than “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Mulcahy said the Georgia is the only state that requires jurors to be convinced by the highest standard that a defendant is mentally retarded. There are other levels of proof such as “clear and convincing evidence” or the lowest level, “preponderance of evidence,” he said. The goal is to rewrite state law so mentally disabled defendants are not put on death row, he said.

For more information about the Georgia Catholic Conference, visit