Human Trafficking Bill Sent to Governor/Services Bill Waiting

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chaintraffickingSB 2107,  the “mainframe” bill which adopts much of the uniform act on human trafficking and includes language preventing funds for victims services from being used to refer for our counsel in favor of abortion was given final approval by the Senate yesterday.  It now goes to Governor Dalrymple for his signature.

The Grand Forks Herald has more . . .

SB 2199, which provides needed services to victims of trafficking still needs Senate approval.

To see why SB 2199 is so important, check out this story from the Bismarck Tribune.

Three Bills on Human Trafficking Pass House Unanimously

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chaintraffickingOn Wednesday, the House passed three important bills to address human trafficking in the state.

SB 2107 is the “mainframe” bill which adopts much of the uniform act on human trafficking and includes language preventing funds for victims services from being used to refer for our counsel in favor of abortion.

SB 2199 appropriates funding to help fund desperately needed services for victims of human trafficking.

SB 2275 makes it a crime for a human trafficker to force a victim to have an abortion.

All three bills passed unanimously.  SB 2275 will go the governor.  The Senate will need to consider whether to concur to changes the House made to SB 2107 and SB 2199.

North Dakota Passes First Ever School Choice Legislation

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schoolchoice.001For the first time ever, the North Dakota legislature has passed legislation furthering parental choice in education.

SB 2151 provides some funding for low-income parents who voluntarily choose to enroll their child in a qualified pre-K education program.  The money would “follow the child” so that a parent can choose a nonpublic, including religious-affiliated, school.

On Wednesday the House passed the measure 50-41.  Today, the Senate concurred with the House amendments and gave final approval to the bill.  Governor Dalrymple supported the proposal in his budget address and is, therefore, expected to sign the bill.

The Most Important Bill You Never Hear About

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1280px-2009-0521-ND-StateCapitolThe appropriation bill for the Department of Human Services may be the most important bill you never hear about.

The Department of Human Services is large.  Its budget for the 2013-2015 biennium was over $3 Billion. This session’s bill requests $3.6 Billion, but expect the final bill to be less after adjustments in light of falling oil revenues. The department has over 2,200 full-time employees. (Full disclosure, my wife is one of them.)

While it may be tempting to some to see the department’s budget as proof of an overgrown bureaucracy, the truth is that the department’s services include a wide range of programs that, if looked at individually, are not particularly large or expensive. About 33% of the budget consists of Medicaid and children’s health insurance payments, but the rest covers many other services. These include:

  • Long-term care, which includes nursing homes
  • Special needs adoption
  • Foster care
  • Care for individuals with developmental disabilities, including guardianship services
  • Autism services
  • Abortion alternatives services
  • Guardianship establishment and Vulnerable Adult Protective Services
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
  • The human service centers
  • The state hospital
  • Child support services
  • Various substance abuse programs
  • The Life Skills and Transition Center (formerly known as the Developmental Center)
  • Child care assistance
  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance
  • Senior Meals Programs
  • Vocational Rehabilitation

And there are many more.  In fact, the budget request had 55 separate line items, most of which are for unique services.  Chances are, if you or a family member has ever been sick, struggling financially, in a nursing home, disabled, facing a mental illness or behavioral health problem, divorced with a child, or unexpectedly pregnant, you have had contact with the Department of Human Services.

It should be pointed out that about 60% of the department’s budget comes from federal, not state dollars.  Nevertheless, the breadth of the department’s actions and size of the total budget can make it seem overwhelming and an easy target when it comes to “trimming” government spending.  After all, the poor, sick, and struggling don’t have strong lobbying organizations.

Another challenge is that some people believe that these services should be provided entirely through private charities, especially the churches.  Certainly churches have a role to play.  Charity is a Christian obligation.  There is, however, a difference between charity, which is freely given in response to an immediate need, and justice, which is due to a person because of their dignity as a human person.  The Church teaches that we should not leave to charity that which is already due as a matter of justice.

We also need to recognize that, mostly out of a desire to protect citizens, the provision of human services has become professionalized and regulated.  As a consequence, the cost of covering all these services would be beyond the capability of the charitable sector.  If you are already tired of the diocese’s capital campaigns, imagine what it would be like if churches had to raise another $1.5 Billion annually.

The Department of Human Services bill is not like an abortion or school choice bill, where you can email your legislator with a simple “yes” or “no” request.  The bill will be passed.  The question is what in it will be funded and at what level.  How, as Catholics citizens, do we engage in the development of such a bill?

Something the Wisconsin Catholic Conference recently wrote about budget bills in general applies to the Department of Human Services bill.  It wrote:

While they contain numerous facts, data, and projections, state budgets are documents through which our state makes choices and sets priorities.  They are about how needs are met and which are deferred or denied.  As such, they are moral documents that define the values of those who enact them.

While the WCC does not take a position for or against the state budget as a whole, it does address aspects of the budget that advance or hinder important priorities.  For Catholics, a vital priority is always that of meeting the needs of the poor, disadvantaged, and marginalized.

Ultimately, the budget bill is a moral document that reflects who we are as a state.  The least we can do is pray for the legislators that will review the department’s bill.

Heavenly Father, grant wisdom and open hearts to our elected officials as they decide how best to help our neighbors, especially the least among us. Amen.

Christopher Dodson, Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference

Christ is Risen! Truly, He is Risen!

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SB 2279 and Religious Freedom

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File:ReligiousFreedomStamp-1The North Dakota House of Representatives will soon vote on SB 2279.  What kind of infringements upon religious liberty would be caused by SB 2279?

Examples:

  • Faith-based entities that are not part of a “religious organization” would have no protection in hiring practices or the provision of services.  Examples include:

FirstChoice Clinic
Prairie St. John’s Hospital
Teen Challenge
St. Vincent’s Care Center (St. Vincent’s adheres to a Catholic mission, but it is owned and operated by Sanford.)
New Life Crisis Pregnancy Center
Saint Gianna’s Maternity Home
Christian Family Life Services
Perry Center Home for Unwed Mothers
Shilo High School
Hope Christian School

  • If an atheist (or a professed Wiccan) applied to work at a Christian grade school as a math teacher and the school does not restrict the position to Christians of that denomination, the school could not reject the applicant even though the applicant’s stated beliefs are antithetical to the school’s mission.
  • If a male applicant for a coaching position at a Catholic high school appeared for his interview wearing a dress, the school would not be allowed to reject the cross-dressing applicant so long as he says he is Catholic.
  • Suppose a male coach at the Catholic school decides to always wear a dress to work. If he remains a member of the Catholic Church, the school could not take any action against him without being subject to an investigation by the Labor Department and possible legal action.
  • Knights of Columbus halls would no longer be able to rent out space for wedding receptions, family reunions, or anything else unless, contrary to their religious principles, they also rent space out for same-sex wedding celebrations, pagan rituals, the Klu Klux Klan, and even a Man/Boy Love association.
  • Private businesses have no protection in employment and business matters.  Examples include:

Religious bookstores such as Hurley’s
Islamic (Halal) groceries
Christian-based web designers
Photographers
Dating services

These types of businesses would, for example, have to employ people who engage in activities that might violate their beliefs about sex outside of marriage.

In addition, all businesses would be required to participate in activities that they might find morally objectionable, such as a same-sex wedding, a celebration of divorce, etc.

  • A religious-based college, such as University of Mary, that provides space, money, or approval to any student clubs, it would have to do the same for clubs for gay and lesbian students.
  • Scouting and children’s organizations could not consider a person’s sexual activities and behaviors when making leadership positions.
  • SB 2279 would make it illegal for religious organizations that own non-commercial housing (convent, rectory, boarding house, retreat space) to consider sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex when giving preference for space.  Only religious adherence to the same faith would be allowed, even if the housing is for non-commercial purposes.

Important note: People commonly believe that the religious beliefs in these examples are protected by the U.S. Constitution.  This is not true.  So long as a law does target religion and applies to everyone – which is the case with the North Dakota Human Rights Act – the government may infringe upon someone’s religious beliefs without violating the U.S. Constitution.

Committee Gives “Sexual Orientation Discrimination” Bill Do Not Pass Recommendation

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1280px-2009-0521-ND-StateCapitolThe House Human Services Committee overwhelmingly voted against SB 2279, a bill that would give sexual acts outside of marriage special legal protection while restricting religious freedoms.  The vote was 11-2 for a Do Not Pass recommendation.

The committee made an amendment to the problematic “religious exemptions” in the bill which the conference is still analyzing.

Effort to Refer Corporate Farming Law Kicks Off

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The North Dakota Farmers Union held a rally on the Capitol steps today in support of family farms and to kick off a campaign to refer the corporate farming law to the voters.

On Bishop David Kagan’s behalf, Monsignor Chad Gion of Spirit of Life parish in Mandan gave the opening prayer.

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Important Congressional Action Alert

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYour help is needed to stop two dangerous pieces of legislation recently passed by the Council of the District of Columbia and signed by the mayor. These acts, the “Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act” (RHNDA) and the “Human Rights Amendment Act” (HRAA) are subject to disapproval by Congress.

On March 6, 2015 the DC government forwarded these laws to Congress, which has 30 legislative days to pass resolutions of disapproval; after this time other avenues might be able to block the laws’ implementation.

Please act immediately on the NCHLA Action Alert found at: nchla.org/actiondisplay.asp?ID=316

On March 20, Donald Cardinal Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington along with the chairmen of five committees of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops sent letters to the House and Senate urging Congress to block RHNDA and HRAA. For the text of the US bishops’ letter see www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/upload/ADW-USCCB-letter-DC-bills-3-20-15.pdf

Rally for Family Farms

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In response to passage of the corporate farming bill, a rally will be held 2 PM this Friday on the steps of the Capitol.  Bishop David Kagan is scheduled to give the opening prayer.
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