Catholics head to Olympia February 20 to advocate for the vulnerable, environment

  • Written by Nathan Whalen
  • Published in Local
Catholics from around the archdiocese lobbied their legislators for fair and just policies during Catholic Advocacy Day in 2019. Photo: Stephen Brashear Catholics from around the archdiocese lobbied their legislators for fair and just policies during Catholic Advocacy Day in 2019. Photo: Stephen Brashear

OLYMPIA – Social justice issues and the environment will take center stage when hundreds of Catholics from across Washington state lobby their legislators February 20 during Catholic Advocacy Day.

The day is an opportunity for Catholics to come to Olympia during the legislative session “to advocate for the needs of people who often don’t have anyone to advocate for them,” said Patty Bowman, executive director of Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center, which organizes the annual event.

Registration is required by February 10; IPJC is arranging for buses from several parishes to make the trip to Olympia.

The Washington State Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s bishops on public policy, has identified five key legislative issues for Catholics to promote that day, said Jim Thomas, the organization’s senior policy analyst. They range from clean fuel standards to human trafficking awareness training for hotel/motel employees (see box).

Participants begin Catholic Advocacy Day with prayer, then are briefed on the issues and how Catholic teaching supports those positions, Bowman said. Scott Merriman, legislative liaison for the state Office of Financial Management, will talk about how the state’s budget process works.

In addition, a person who lives in a low-income residence operated by Mercy Housing will talk about the benefits that result from successful lobbying.

“It can be easy to forget that these are real people,” Bowman said.

Then participants will meet with legislators who represent their communities. “When people show up from their districts, legislators take notice of that,” Thomas said.

During the visits with legislators, participants should share their experiences of volunteering in their parishes or through organizations like the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, he said.

“These stories really carry weight and are very persuasive,” Thomas explained.

After Catholic Advocacy Day is over, people should follow up with their legislators and establish a good relationship with them, Bowman said, perhaps by inviting them to tour a program that helps the vulnerable.

“That’s very powerful,” she said.

Five key legislative issues for Catholic Advocacy Day

1. Repeal the death penalty (SB 5339) – Legislation passed the state Senate last week and heads to the House of Representatives. The issue has stalled in recent years, Thomas said, but noted the governor has placed a moratorium on the death penalty and the state Supreme Court has ruled it unconstitutional.

2. Require all hotel/motel employees to go through awareness training on human trafficking (HB 2320, SB 6356) – These workers are most likely to encounter suspicious activity related to human trafficking, Thomas said. In addition to training for employees, hotels and motels would post informational signs and develop procedures for voluntary reporting of suspicious activity.

3. Adopt clean fuel standards (HB 1110) – This legislation would result in reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector and allow market forces to choose which fuels can achieve results, Thomas said. California, Oregon and British Columbia have similar laws, he added.

4. Improve access to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) (HB 2441) – The federal program provides cash assistance, subsidized childcare and work programs, but it’s difficult for families to meet eligibility conditions that have tightened since the Great Recession, Thomas said. This legislation gives state administrators greater flexibility on a case-by-case basis. “We want people who need the assistance to get it and not be penalized for being poor,” he said, adding that harsher enforcement of TANF requirements would increase the number of people experiencing homelessness.

5. Increase the Housing Trust Fund – The fund finances construction of residences for people who would otherwise be homeless, Thomas said. The WSCC has advocated for increases in the fund for a decade; this year it is advocating a $10 million increase, he said.

Learn more about the issues: Sign up for the Washington State Catholic Conference advocacy network, which sends weekly newsletters during the legislative session, monthly newsletters the rest of the year and action alerts.