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Eastern Washington Legislative Conference 2015: Raising Prophetic voices

Faith-based lobbyists bring values to legislation

 

With about 1,500 bills introduced in the Washington State Legislature as of the Jan. 31 Eastern Washington Legislative Conference at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Spokane, both the Washington State Catholic Conference (WSCC) and the Faith Action Network (FAN) of Washington have faith-based advocacy priorities. 

Sister Sharon Park and Paul Benz
Sr. Sharon Park, OP of WSCC and Paul Benz of the Faith Action Network (FANWA)

Most of the priorities of the WSCC and FAN are in common, but a few are not.

With a good mix of Democrats and Republicans in the State Senate and State House of Representatives, there may be more chance of legislators agreeing on some action, commented Sr. Sharon Park, OP, director of the WSCC.

“Faith-based advocacy is value-based advocacy on behalf of others,” she said.  “We cannot do all issues, but we do what is important out of our values.  Our advocacy is nonpartisan, based on information and grassroots involvement.”

The last four quarters, there has been an increase in income that is expected to carry forward for two years.

After the passage of Initiative 1351, reducing class sizes without funding, Sr. Sharon said, there is a proposal that future initiatives cannot be passed without funding sources, because the state has to have a balanced budget.

“We support adequate revenue to cover the safety net,” she said.

EWLC lunch room full of participants
Participants in the Eastern Washington Legislative Conference, January 31, 2015

Sr. Sharon and Paul Benz, co-director of FAN listed several bills the WSCC and FAN are supporting based on faith values and their priorities:

• One major criminal justice reform is to challenge legal financial obligations (LFOs) people must pay with 12 percent compounded interest when they are released from prison.

Someone who has done time should not be put back in jail because of not having money to pay the fees, Sr. Sharon said. There’s no sense for someone to be homeless or poor because of LFOs.

• Another bill proposes that inmates have post-secondary educational opportunities while in prison.

Paul said that the late 1980s and early 1990s was a tough-on-crime period in an effort to dismantle the culture of violence.  In contrast, he said restorative justice would reduce recidivism—repeat offenses—by restoring people to the state and society.

• The Family Unity Act sets a distinct relationship with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local law enforcement.

• FAN and the WSCC both support the Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) fund, formerly General Assistance to Unemployable.

• The Emergency Food Assistance Programs (EFAP) allows farmers markets to continue to accept food stamps and strengthens programs that provide access to food for struggling families. 

• Breakfast After the Bell allows children in high-risk public schools to eat breakfast even if they arrive late.

• Support for housing farm workers, disabled people and low-income people comes from faith values to decrease homelessness.

• A health care proposal would cover for mental and physical health on par.

• The Toxic Free Kids and Families Act calls for children to inherit a safe, healthy world.  It requires the chemical industry to stop using PBDEs, cancer-causing toxic flame-retardants in couches, changing pads, car seats and other children’s products, and preventing equally harmful chemicals from being used as replacements.

Bishop Emeritus Skylstad and Sr. Sharon Park
Conversations over lunch with Bishop Emeritus Skylstad and Sr. Sharon Park of WSCC

On life issues, Sr. Sharon said the Catholic Church is promoting a bill that requires parental notification before a girl under 18 has an abortion, similar to what 37 states have.  There is provision for judicial bypass in case of incest or abuse.

Work continues on abolishing the death penalty, along with efforts in other states. The governor’s moratorium on it, she said, allows time to look at how costly it is, and its disparate use with 35 counties not doing it because they can’t afford it.  There is also concern about the disproportionate number of blacks, other people of color, and poor people on death row.  It’s a case of poverty, racism and costs for the state, she said.

She encouraged people expressing their support or opposition on issues to avoid partisan comments, because advocacy requires building relationships with legislators.

“For us as lobbyists, involvement by members of the faith community is important,” she said.  “They have the most power with legislators.”

The Catholic Conference’s advocacy network has weekly alerts informing people what they can do and urging them to contact legislators by phone, email and letter, to be polite, kind and brief, and to share stories of people affected.  People can write op-ed pieces and letters to the editor, and can take part in local legislative forums and civic events, as well as making personal visits.

Its website at thewscc.org offers advocacy bulletins on issues, an overview of the legislative session, and its 2015 legislative priorities.

For information, call 206-301-0556 or email wscc@thewscc.org.

“Each person can make a difference by keeping up on one or two issues,” Paul said. 

The Faith Action Network also sends alerts.  Its Network of Advocating Faith Communities, which involves 90 communities in Washington, provides resources, training and strategies for effective advocacy.

 Its website at fanwa.org offers information on the legislative agenda, a bill tracker, an advocacy toolkit and information on how to be involved.

For information, call 206-625-9790 or email benz@fanwa.org.

For video of some sessions check The Fig Tree Youtube Channel.


Copyright © March 2015 - The Fig Tree