The week of January 28 has seen the introduction of a number of bills that are of interest to the Georgia Catholic Conference as well as a successful Catholic Day at the Capitol.
HHS Mandate. On February 1, the US Department of Health and Human Services issued proposed rules which included provisions intended to exempt religious organizations from the mandated coverage of contraception, abortion and similar services to which the religious organizations morally object. USCCB staff are analyzing the proposed regulations to determine whether they, in fact, resolve the issues which we have raised in litigation and in public policy statements. As of this morning, the USCCB staff has not completed this complex analysis, thus, we cannot yet take a position on the new proposed regulations.
Catholic Day at the Capitol. Approximately 150 people from the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Diocese of Savannah attended the sixth annual Catholic Day at the Capitol on January 29. Participants learned about issues related to abortion, parental choice, in education and social justice issues related to human trafficking and immigration and engaged legislators on those subjects. Archbishop Gregory delivered the morning devotional in the House of Representatives.
Education. Of several education related bills introduced in the last week, HB 140 (Rep. Ehrhart R – Powder Springs), includes important improvements for student scholarship programs, such as GRACE Scholars. The bill proposes to increase the statewide maximum contributions from $50 million to $80 million. In 2012, contributions reached the maximum in September and many prospective donors were precluded from making contributions. The bill increases the amount of individual contributions to 75% of income tax liability as has been the case for corporations and limits the total annual amount of donations from corporations to 25% of the total.
HB 70 improves the administration of the special needs scholarship program by allowing expedited processing of special needs students and periodic payments of scholarships. Both provisions are beneficial to students in Catholic schools.
Legislative Ethics. HB 142 and 143 (both by Rep. Ralston – R- Blue Ridge) are aimed at public concerns related to influences on legislators. HB 142 limits gifts to legislators and HB 143 imposes additional restrictions on lobbyists. The Conference supports improved ethical conduct but is also particularly monitoring the expanded definition of lobbyist lest it restrict public access to legislative representatives.