OLYMPIA – From the importance of more resources for the homeless and mentally ill to parental notification for abortions, Catholics from around the archdiocese lobbied their legislators for fair and just policies February 7.
“Our legislators represent us, and if we don’t let them know what’s important, then how would they know?” said Theresa Van De Ven, an administrative assistant for faith formation at St. James Cathedral in Seattle. “We witness the devastating effects of homelessness and mental illness every day,” she said, noting that St. James has a variety of programs to help those in need.
Van De Ven was one of 350 people who signed up for this year’s Catholic Advocacy Day, which had the theme “Catholics for the Common Good.” The annual event was sponsored by the Washington State Catholic Conference, the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center, Catholic Community Services/Catholic Housing Services of Western Washington and St. Vincent de Paul of Seattle/King County.
After issue briefings and Mass concelebrated by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain and Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo at St. Michael Church in Olympia, participants headed to the Capitol to visit legislators from their districts.
Archbishop J. Peter Sartain and Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo met with Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib during Catholic Advocacy Day February 7. Photo: Stephen Brashear
Participants advocated on a variety of issues: repealing the death penalty, more funding for affordable housing, parental notification for minors considering abortion, and more assistance for community mental health programs and those in danger of becoming homeless (see box).
“We’re trying to make some kind of impact on the Legislature,” said Melissa Johnson, pastoral assistant for administration at Sacred Heart Parish in Bellingham.
In her meeting with legislators, Johnson said, she emphasized mental health issues as well as the need to improve resources and outreach that supplement the efforts of Catholic agencies in the Bellingham area, including Catholic Community Services and St. Vincent de Paul.
Joanne Graves, a member of St. Olaf Parish in Poulsbo, said she was pleased to talk about parental notification when a child is considering an abortion, which she said was “common-sense legislation to protect minors.”
The importance of community mental health and housing programs was highlighted in meetings with 38th District legislators by Kathy Batrack, who works for Catholic Community Services in Everett. “If you help, it’s a domino effect,” she said.
Participants also left behind letters reinforcing the case they made to legislators, according to Patty Bowman, executive director of the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center. She encouraged participants to follow up with their legislators.
For one group of participants, the day began with the unexpected — their charter bus broke down on the left shoulder of Interstate 5 in the Kent area. Fortunately, another bus from Seattle and was able to pick them up, though they still arrived late in Olympia.
Those who made it to Olympia on time heard briefings on legislative issues and listened to advocacy success stories. Dennis Bateman, a resident at CCS’ Patrick Place Apartments in Seattle, shared his story of life on the streets after being released from prison six years ago.
“I surrendered to God on a corner in Kent and walked into a Catholic Community Services shelter at Holy Spirit Church,” Bateman said. About a year later, he secured an apartment at Patrick Place and now works as a housing advocate at a shelter in Seattle.
Catholic Advocacy Day was the latest event for Catholics in Olympia this year — the annual Mass for Life and March for Life were held January 22, and Catholic Schools Day brought students to Olympia January 30.
The state Legislature is considering over 1,200 bills already this session, and the Washington State Catholic Conference, which represents the bishops of the state, is tracking legislation on key issues throughout the regular session, which ends April 28.
To get legislative updates from the WSCC, join its network.
Issues advocated during Catholic Advocacy Day
Repeal of the death penalty
House Bill 1488 and Senate Bill 5339 would eliminate the death penalty; those convicted of aggravated first-degree murder would be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release or parole.
The state’s Catholic bishops oppose capital punishment, which St. John Paul II called “cruel and unnecessary.”
The state Supreme Court declared the state’s death penalty law unconstitutional in October 2018, the fourth time it had been declared unconstitutional since 1972.
Housing and Essential Needs funding
The Housing and Essential Needs program (administered by Catholic Community Services in King and Kitsap counties) helps meet the basic needs of those who are homeless or at a risk of becoming homeless.
By providing support for rent and utility assistance, HEN ensures people with temporary physical disabilities can meet their basic needs when facing extreme economic hardships. It is a last resort for these vulnerable people.
Housing Trust Fund
The state Housing Trust Fund has awarded nearly $1 billion since 1986 to build or preserve nearly 47,000 units of affordable housing statewide.
The fund supports first-time home ownership programs and homes for families, seniors, veterans and people with disabilities, many of them living below the federal poverty level.
Additional funding is sorely needed because of the increasing number of people experiencing homelessness. If funded at the highest level, more than 5,000 units of affordable housing could be built.
Community-based mental health
Washington is ranked near the bottom of states in providing access to appropriate services for people experiencing a behavioral health illness. The poor are disproportionately impacted by the lack of access to these services.
State legislators have adopted integration of state health services, but the goal is a patient-centered system with treatment using the latest science and based on a commitment to recovery and the belief that each person has the potential to live a full and healthy life.
Parental notification for abortion
Most medical procedures for those under age 18, including non-emergency medical services, require a higher standard of parental consent, recognizing that minors need support from parents and guardians.
In recent years, legislation has been introduced requiring parental notification for a minor considering an abortion. This year’s Senate Bill 5185 does not require parental consent, but it would make it necessary (in most cases) for parents to be notified 48 hours before their minor daughter could obtain an abortion.
A poll of Washington voters showed 65 percent would support parental notification. This legislation includes a judicial bypass measure to allow exceptions to the notification requirement in some circumstances.