U.S. Bishops Issue Their Legislative Agenda for Congress

Tax Breaks, Postwar Iraq and Abortion Among Topics

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WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 25, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The U.S. bishops’ conference identified more than 100 legislative issues of concern in Congress, including the rebuilding of postwar Iraq and the shielding of health-care workers from forced involvement in abortion.

The episcopal conference’s congressional Legislative Agenda was prepared by its Office of Government Liaison and approved last week by its Administrative Committee.

The agenda aims to identify issues of concern to U.S. bishops; to determine which of the episcopal conference’s legislative interests ought to be on the congressional agenda; and to assess where the conference’s staff should focus its lobbying efforts.

The «Lobbying» category of the document includes support for legislation or provisions or efforts that, among other things, would:

— help families leave welfare for meaningful work; strengthen marriage and family life; and sustain the needy, especially children and immigrants — all within the context of the reauthorization of the 1996 welfare reform bill.

— support an extension of the federal unemployment insurance (Temporary Emergency Unemployment Compensation) for those who lost their benefits at the end of 2002.

— ensure a level playing field for faith-based and community-based groups, and new resources to serve the poor, while preserving the Title VII (Civil Rights) exemption for religious groups.

— advocate for federal budget priorities and tax policies that would protect programs which help the poor.

— support legislation to provide tax credits for personal and corporate donations to organizations providing scholarships for children.

— make permanent educational tax deductions, including Coverdell savings accounts.

— support an adequately funded student scholarship demonstration project of educational choice for parents, especially for those most in need.

— initiate a grass-roots effort to urge Congress to consider refundable tax credits/deductions for families with children in public, private or religious schools to help pay for various educational expenses, including tuition.

— increase incentives for charitable giving.

— amend existing debt law to increase funding for the additional reduction of bilateral and multilateral debt for the world’s most heavily indebted poor countries, most of which are in Africa.

— establish a major new development aid program. The bishops’ conference said it will likely work to amend and improve the Bush administration’s proposal so that aid is focused on poor countries, particularly in Africa.

— provide increased U.S. funding for morally appropriate efforts to treat and prevent infectious diseases abroad with a special focus on Africa, including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

— support efforts in Congress to limit the use of force in Iraq.

— support legislation to fund humanitarian assistance and, if events warrant, post-conflict reconstruction to Iraq.

— support adequate funding for the Department of Health and Services Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to exercise its new responsibilities with respect to the care of unaccompanied alien children.

— reduce instances where aliens are held in detention by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through appropriations for alternatives to detention, ensure that any such appropriation of funds is used only for true alternatives to detention, and oppose increased DHS appropriations for detention.

— ensure that Department of Homeland Security border enforcement and personnel respect the human and civil rights of those they encounter, including efforts to mandate human rights training for such personnel.

— increase the number of refugees admitted into the United States, including increasing the number of admissions of both particularly vulnerable refugees and refugees who have been in protracted refugee situations for some time.

— support adequate appropriations for the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to successfully assist in the early self-sufficiency of refugees in the United States.

— extend permanently the Special Immigrant Non-minister Religious Worker Visa Program and make both the special immigrant and non-immigrant non-minister religious worker visa programs more useful to religious denominations and to diocesan seminaries.

— ban partial-birth abortion and oppose weakening amendments.

— support health care providers from forced involvement in abortion.

— maintain current appropriations riders that prevent federal support of abortion in health programs, military hospitals, District of Columbia, federal prisons and federal employees’ health plans.

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