Fighting for what’s right

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Catholics from across New York State gather in Albany for Public Policy Forum

by Claudia Mathis
SUN staff writer

ALBANY — Close to 1,000 Catholics attended the New York State Catholic Conference’s annual Public Policy Forum on March 11 in the state capitol. Of that number, the Syracuse Diocese sent 130 to 140 people.

The day offers Catholics the opportunity to lobby state legislators while becoming more deeply involved in the issues important to the church’s teachings. This year, Catholics came to speak with lawmakers on seven critical issues: stop the abortion bill, support for education tax credits, expand supports for working families, expand access to health insurance, oppose the legalization of same-sex unions, provide immigrants with access to essential services and cut greenhouse gas emissions from all sources.

Young people from throughout the Syracuse Diocese attended the forum, serving as advocates for the issues.

Students from Bishop Ludden Junior/Senior High School and Bishop Grimes Junior/Senior High School, both in Syracuse, had an opportunity to witness the lobbying by five members of the Peace and Justice Committee from Holy Cross Church in DeWitt when they met with Assemblywoman Joan Christensen (D-119th District).

Linda Grady presented her concerns about providing immigrants and migrants with access to essential health care and about the doctors who treat them. “As a nurse, I’m very aware of the increasing costs of health insurance and the inability of people to pay for their medication,” said Grady. “One of my concerns is that there is a legislative initiative to require human service and health care providers to find out what the immigration status is — if people are actually legal residents before providing care, and if they provide care to people who don’t have legal status, the provider can be held legally responsible for having provided that care. That seems unethical to me.”

Grady also addressed Christensen about the importance of literacy. “I really want to urge you, Joan, to support any English language initiatives for literacy for people who do speak English but need greater proficiency in their reading and most especially for people who don’t have English as their first language. I think that health and literacy are intertwined.”

Doris Jackson spoke to Christensen about the issue of expanding the support for working families. Both agreed on the plight of working mothers who stop receiving welfare benefits such as health insurance and babysitting services when they join the workforce. “Many of the jobs offered do not offer health insurance to the women because they are not allowed to work 40 hours,” said Jackson.

“Welfare women are in a terrible bind,” said Christensen. “It’s almost beneficial for them not to work. They want to work but they feel constrained. It’s a very valid complaint.”

Next on the agenda was the issue of expanding access to health care. Gretchen Lane proposed increasing funding for preventive health care for those people who are unable to afford it. “Preventive care is the most cost-effective way to have good health,” said Lane. “Too many people have to use emergency rooms as their primary health care.”

Christensen agreed with Lane that using emergency services is costly. “It’s a real dilemma for the doctors and the patients,” said Christensen. “We have doctors saying, ‘We need more help — we can’t man the emergency room with the number of cases that we have coming in.’”

Marvin Klemmer, global technology manager at Tall Corporation in Cortland, presented his case for cutting greenhouse gas emissions from all sources.

In recent months, Pope Benedict XVI has made several strong appeals for the protection of the environment, saying issues such as climate change have become gravely important for all people. The Vatican recently labeled the act of causing environmental blight a sin.

Research indicates that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow unabated, New York can expect dramatic changes in climate over the course of this century with substantial impact on the state’s economy and character. Average temperatures across the northeast have risen by 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970. These changes are consistent with global warming, which many scientists believe is driven by heat-trapping (greenhouse gas) emissions from human activities.

Klemmer stressed the importance of reducing the emissions. He also explained how the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multi-state, market-based plan to stabilize and reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants will operate. Under the plan, the power plants will have to pay for their emissions.

A carbon constraint on fossil fuel-fired electricity generation and the development of a CO2 allowance trading mechanism will create a strong incentive for the creation, development and deployment of more efficient fuel-burning technologies and processes, as well as management practices and actions to increase energy efficiency.

Abigail Hiza, a student at Bishop Ludden, lobbied for education tax credits. Abigail said she feels education tax credits are vital because Catholic schools have closed due to rising tuition rates. “It’s putting an additional burden on public schools, which are already overcrowded,” said Abigail.

Sam Donnelly, chairman of the Peace and Justice Committee at Holy Cross in DeWitt, added, “If you provide a small subsidy for the Catholic schools, they’ll have a greater chance of surviving.”

Christensen listened intently and acknowledged, “Yes, Holy Cross School is doing well, isn’t it?”

Lisa Hall, Diocesan Director of the Respect Life Office, brought her concerns about the proposal for the Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act. The bill seeks to establish a fundamental right to privacy in state law to guarantee that abortion is protected and available, throughout the nine months of pregnancy.

Hall met with Assemblyman Al Stirpe (D-121st District/North Syracuse) and State Senator John DeFrancisco (R-49th District), urging them to do all within their power to prevent the bill from coming to the Senate floor for a vote.

Hall was also concerned about another provision of the bill. It would endanger women by repealing the requirement in current law that says only doctors can perform abortions. As written, the bill would allow any health care practitioner to perform the procedure. Moreover, the bill would allow post-viability abortions to be performed on an out-patient basis in clinics that go virtually unregulated by public health authorities. “We’re very concerned about women’s health,” said Hall.

Stirpe assured Hall by telling her that there is a lot of opposition to the bill.

Hall presented a petition to Stirpe bearing 4,000 signatures of people who oppose the bill. DeFrancisco had signed the petition prior to the Public Policy Forum.

Following a morning of lobbying, Catholics gathered in the convention center to attend Mass celebrated by Cardinal Edward Egan. “I can’t tell you how proud I am — that you have come in such great numbers,” said Cardinal Egan.

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