Focus on religious liberty, poverty expected during 2019 legislative session

  • Written by Nathan Whalen
  • Published in Local
Catholics from state Legislative District 46 meet with Rep. Javier Valdez, one of their representatives from the district that includes Kenmore, Bothell, Lake Forest Park and part of Seattle, during Catholic Advocacy Day, February 21, 2018. Photo: Courtesy Intercommunity Peace & Justice Center Catholics from state Legislative District 46 meet with Rep. Javier Valdez, one of their representatives from the district that includes Kenmore, Bothell, Lake Forest Park and part of Seattle, during Catholic Advocacy Day, February 21, 2018. Photo: Courtesy Intercommunity Peace & Justice Center

OLYMPIA – With Democratic majorities in the state Legislature boosted by the fall elections, social justice issues are expected to receive significant attention in the 2019 legislative session.

That is the assessment of Joe Sprague, executive director of the Washington State Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of the state’s Catholic bishops.

“We’d expect there’s going to be considerable interest on homelessness and other poverty issues,” Sprague said. “Pro-life issues will face a challenge with the current make-up of the Legislature.”

When the session begins January 14, Sprague said, Catholic advocacy groups will ask the Legislature to consider a slate of initiatives to help the poorest and most vulnerable in the state. They include seeking increased funding for the Housing Trust Fund, which finances projects to build and preserve affordable housing, and improvements in community-based mental health programs.

Catholic Community Services of Western Washington supports these initiatives and will also push for more support for the Housing and Essential Needs Referral Program, which helps families stay in their homes, said Josephine Tamayo Murray, CCS vice president for public policy. Last year, the Legislature expanded eligibility for the program, but no funding was provided for the elderly, blind and disabled people who qualify, she said.

“We have a lot more people eligible and can’t get the help they need,” Tamayo Murray said.

CCS is also supporting funding for the Working Families Tax Rebate, Washington state’s version of the Earned Income Tax Credit. The rebate was approved 10 years ago, Tamayo Murray said, but funding has not been allocated.

Elimination of the death penalty is also a goal of the state’s bishops. Even though the Washington Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that capital punishment is unconstitutional, it is still specified in state law, and should be completely repealed, said Tim Hunt, the WSCC’s director of communications and outreach.

An area of concern, Sprague said, is policy initiatives that conflict with religious liberty. During the 2018 session, legislators approved a measure mandating that insurance companies cover abortions, and did not include a conscience clause. “It’s primarily a religious liberty issue,” Sprague said, adding that the WSCC will be watching for any proposed legislation that expands abortion mandates.

In addition, the conference is advocating that all schools, including Catholic and other private schools, be notified by first responders in case of a nearby emergency that may require a lockdown or evacuation.

The WSCC is encouraging Catholics to become more engaged in the legislative process (see box for ways to get involved).

“For the Catholic Church to have a greater impact on legislative outcomes, we need more Catholics to get involved in advocacy efforts,” Sprague said.

How to make a difference

Catholics who want to have a voice on issues before the state Legislature can start by joining the Washington State Catholic Conference’s advocacy network, suggests Joe Sprague, the WSCC’s executive director.

The network provides updates and action alerts on important issues, and makes it easy to contact elected officials. So far, 5,500 people have joined, but Sprague would like to see many more sign up.

Catholics can also join their local bishops by participating in two annual events in Olympia (chartered bus transportation is available from many parishes):

• On January 22, Catholics can stand up for life at the Mass for Life, followed by the Washington State March for Life. After the march, participants can meet with their legislators to advocate for pro-life issues.

• On February 7, Catholic Advocacy Day gives Catholics the opportunity to learn more about issues of importance to the state’s bishops, and then meet with legislators from their districts to discuss those issues.

What is the WSCC?

The Washington State Catholic Conference represents the Catholic bishops of Washington state in their efforts to support public policies that promote the common good. The WSCC’s activities include:

• Developing a public policy agenda and coordinating advocacy efforts of the Catholic community in Washington state.

• Engaging public officials, the state Legislature and civic organizations.

• Working in collaboration with other advocacy groups.

• Sponsoring Catholic Advocacy Day.

Read more about the WSCC’s issues of focus.