A Look at Federal Issues
by Christopher Dodson
Executive Director
North Dakota Catholic Conference
June 2007

Now that the 2007 North Dakota legislative session has finished, we can spend more time addressing federal matters. Congress is working on several very important pieces of legislation that warrant our attention. Working with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and related national organizations, the North Dakota Catholic Conference will monitor and provide input on these issues. Parishioners and members of the conference's legislative action network will undoubtedly find opportunities to share the Catholic perspective with our Congressional delegation. Be sure to check the “News and Updates” page at ndcatholic.org for the latest information.

Farm Bill: It is not an exaggeration to that the Farm Bill will greatly impact North Dakota. Religious organizations, including the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, USCCB, and the North Dakota Conference of Churches have already started sharing principles to guide Congress. As we start the process, we should keep in mind that how we produce our food, who produces it, and how it is distributed are moral issues which cannot be left solely to the forces of economics and efficiency. We must also recognize that so long as the farm system is beholden to unjust market practices, certain non-preferable practices, such as targeted subsidies, may be necessary.

Immigration: The nation's immigration policy needs fixing. Unfortunately, the advocates most often heard call for practices that conflict with Christian principles, betray our nation's history, and are unworkable. It is time to move away from calls for an impenetrable wall, mass deportation, and criminalization and embrace practical and just solutions to the immigration crisis. The new program should contain a workable legalization program that emphasizes family unity and a fair and realistic path to citizenship. A new worker program should provide participants a meaningful opportunity to obtain permanent residency.

State Children's Health Insurance: Following the disintegration of the Clinton health care reform proposal, leaders in both parties looked to find something that could be done to help the millions of uninsured children of the working poor. Taking their cues from a successful Pennsylvania program initiated by Governor (and pro-life leader) Robert Casey, Congress created the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The program helps states provide coverage to the children of families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but still cannot afford health insurance. Although some states, including North Dakota, initially had difficulties enrolling eligible children, most states have now used their allotment of federal dollars in the program.

Congress is likely to renew the program, which expires this year. However, the shape of the new program is uncertain. At a minimum, SCHIP must be adequately funded. Moreover, Congress should avoid placing new restrictions in the program, such as mandating coverage for abortion and contraceptives.

No Child Left Behind: The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (also known as “No Child Left Behind”) is also up for renewal. For the most part, the act applies to public schools, but North Dakota's unusual state laws make it pertinent for the state's Catholic schools as well. North Dakota is one of the few states that require all nonpublic school teachers to meet the same requirements as public school teachers. Similarly, North Dakota is one of a very few states that requires nonpublic schools to meet the same operating requirements as the public schools. As Congress approaches renewing No Child Left Behind, expect issues of funding and state flexibility to come to the forefront.

Iraq: The situation in Iraq would be a major federal issue no matter what transpires, but Congress' decision to only temporarily fund the war effort guarantees that Congress will have to address the matter through legislation later this year. Pope John Paul II, then-Cardinal Ratzinger, and the U.S. Bishops all opposed the start of the war and most moral theologians contend that the invasion did not meet the criteria for a just war. There is less agreement, however, as to what we should now. Peace, however, is always the overriding principle. Let us pray that, despite our differences of opinion about the war, peace prevails – and that it comes soon.