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2018 Legislative Testimony

On this page, we catalogue the testimony of bills the Conference is taking action on in 2018.

SB 2: Family Law - Child Conceived Without Consent - Termination of Parental Rights (Rape Survivor Family Protection Act)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of Senate Bill 2.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

SB 2 authorizes a court to terminate the parental rights of an individual convicted of, or found by clear and convincing evidence, to have committed an act of nonconsensual sexual conduct against the other parent that resulted in the conception of a child.

This bill is designed to protect women from being tormented by their rapists when they become pregnant as a result of nonconsensual sexual conduct.  Currently, a rapist can assert custody and visitation rights over a child who was conceived through a sexual assault.  While the Church strongly supports keeping families together, it also recognizes that doing so may not be in the best interests of the child, particularly when the child may have contact with a parent who exhibits violent behavior.  This bill would also support the decision of a pregnant woman who is the victim of rape to carry her child to term without having to fear future interaction with her attacker.  The Maryland Catholic Conference supports measures that seek to protect vulnerable mothers and children from harm and promote their general well-being.

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges a favorable report for SB 2.  Thank you for your consideration.

HB 1: Family Law - Child Conceived Without Consent - Termination of Parental Rights (Rape Survivor Family Protection Act)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 1.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

HB 1 authorizes a court to terminate the parental rights of an individual convicted of, or found by clear and convincing evidence, to have committed an act of nonconsensual sexual conduct against the other parent that resulted in the conception of a child.

This bill is designed to protect women from being tormented by their rapists when they become pregnant as a result of nonconsensual sexual conduct.  Currently, a rapist can assert custody and visitation rights over a child who was conceived through a sexual assault.  While the Church strongly supports keeping families together, it also recognizes that doing so may not be in the best interests of the child, particularly when the child may have contact with a parent who exhibits violent behavior.  This bill would also support the decision of a pregnant woman who is the victim of rape to carry her child to term without having to fear future interaction with her attacker.  The Maryland Catholic Conference supports measures that seek to protect vulnerable mothers and children from harm and promote their general well-being.

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges a favorable report for HB 1.  Thank you for your consideration.

SB 131: Child Abuse and Neglect - Training

Position: SUPPORT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  We offer this testimony in support of Senate Bill 131.
 
Senate Bill 131 would require certain professionals including health practitioners, police officers, educators, and human service workers, who are required to report suspected child abuse, to receive periodic training on the obligation to report abuse and neglect and the identification of abused and neglected children.  Senate Bill 131 is an important measure for ensuring that mandated reporters fully understand their obligation, and importantly, also receive training in how to recognize abuse in the first place.
 
Like many other institutions serving children, all Catholic parishes, diocesan schools and youth programs observe stringent child protection measures.  Our institutions conduct mandatory criminal background checks on all employees and on volunteers who work with children, provide comprehensive awareness training to educate adults and children on how to recognize predatory behaviors, and promptly report all suspected incidents of child sexual abuse.  
 
It has been our experience that the required training provided to all professionals in our institutions has significantly increased our ability to protect children, and to immediately address instances of suspected abuse.
 
For these reasons, we urge a favorable report on Senate Bill 131.

SB 132: Child Abuse and Neglect – Failure to Report

Position: SUPPORT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  We offer this testimony in support of Senate Bill 132.
 
Senate Bill 132 would impose a misdemeanor penalty of a fine not exceeding $1,000, or imprisonment not exceeding six months or both, on an individual required to report suspected child abuse for failing to report an incident of child abuse if the person had actual knowledge of or witnessed the abuse.  Senate Bill 132 is an important measure for ensuring that mandated reporters take seriously their obligation to report abuse, most especially when they are aware of a clear instance of abuse.
 
Like many other institutions serving children, all Catholic parishes, diocesan schools and youth programs observe stringent child protection measures.  Our institutions conduct mandatory criminal background checks on all employees and on volunteers who work with children, provide comprehensive awareness training to educate adults and children on how to recognize predatory behaviors, and promptly report all suspected incidents of child sexual abuse.  
 
Senate Bill 132 is an important measure to help ensure the immediate reporting of instances of known child abuse, so that children in these situations can quickly receive the protection and services needed to at a minimum remove them from further harm.  Failing to report such instances – and thereby leaving a child in harm’s way – certainly warrants the penalties imposed by Senate Bill 132.
 
For these reasons, we urge a favorable report on Senate Bill 132.

HB 246: Hate Crimes - Threats and Penalties

Position: SUPPORT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  We offer this testimony in general support of House Bill 246.
 
House Bill 246 would expand our state’s current hate crimes laws to apply, not only to an act or an attempt, but also to a threat to harm a targeted individual or group or their property because of their race, color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, or national origin, or because a person is homeless.  
 
At a time when our society is increasingly marred by incidents of intolerance, it is critical that our communities take a strong and united stance against such acts.  As Pope Francis stated in a 2013 address to a delegation from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, “Wherever any minority is persecuted and marginalized because of its religious convictions or ethnic identity, the wellbeing of society as a whole is endangered and each one of us must feel affected.”  
 
Because the Conference does not generally support measures to increase legal penalties, we urge the committee to deliberate carefully these provisions of the bill, and possibly to adjust them if the committees deems a lesser penalty would be appropriate.  With that said, however, we believe this measure offers an important signal that threatening to harm a person or religious community or their property simply because of their identity is inimical to the peace and fraternity that we should all strive for in our diverse society.
 
For these reasons, we urge the committee’s serious consideration of House Bill 246.

SB 33: Health Insurance - Coverage for Fertility Awareness-Based Methods

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of Senate Bill 33.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch) dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

SB 33 requires an insurer, nonprofit health service plan, or health maintenance organization that provides hospital, medical, or surgical benefits to provide coverage for instruction by a health care practitioner on “fertility awareness-based methods.” With the exception of a grandfathered health plan, a carrier may not apply a copayment, coinsurance requirement, or deductible for this coverage. The bill applies to all policies, contracts, and health benefit plans issued, delivered, or renewed in the State on or after January 1, 2019.

Fertility awareness-based contraception, including Natural Family Planning (NFP), is an umbrella term for certain methods used to achieve and avoid pregnancies. These methods are based on observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of a woman’s fertile and infertile phases, without the use of drugs, devices, or surgical procedures to prevent pregnancy.

The Maryland Catholic Conference supports SB 33 because it ensures open access to fertility awareness-based contraceptive counseling, consistent with the open access to drug and device-based contraception that is already ensured under federal and state law.  Passage of this bill allows women who seek to make an informed decision regarding which contraception method she will utilize to have full and open access to all methods, including drug- and device- free options.

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges a favorable report for SB 33.  Thank you for your consideration.

HB 191: Family Law - Marriage - Age Requirements

Position: SUPPORT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving the state of Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  We offer this testimony in support of House Bill 191, which would raise the legal age of marriage to age 18.
 
Like other advocates for the bill, we believe this legislation will provide an important means of preventing the exploitation particularly of young women through human trafficking and coercion by older partners and even family members.  In fact, we can think of no circumstance under which the Church would encourage a person under the age of 18 to marry.
 
Preventing the real life situations of abuse and coercion that proponents of this measure have highlighted provides the most compelling reason to raise the legal age of marriage. Additionally, it is important to consider the potential impact the bill can have on preventing two young persons from entering into a legal commitment without the needed maturity to understand the serious and lifelong impact that their decision to marry carries with it.
 
It has been the constant teaching of the Catholic Church that marriage is a “…covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses…”   The Church believes that this “covenant” is not the result of a happenstance meeting or pure chance, but rather, the result of God working in the lives of two people, bringing them together for a divine purpose according to the Almighty’s divine plan for them.  
 
Given the seriousness of the decision to enter into the enterprise of marriage, it would be expected that an extensive period of thought and reflection be undertaken before two people make this decision, in order to consider thoroughly whether the relationship has the factors needed to be successful and long-lived. For any variety of reasons, it simply is not possible for someone lacking in maturity to enter into marriage as the Catholic Church understands marriage. 
 
Further, the teaching of the Church requires that someone about to enter marriage must decide to do so free of undue influences and outside pressures.  Even in the situation of a couple expecting a child, the Church would likely counsel those under the age of 18 to wait until they were older to decide whether to marry, since the pressure of their situation and their lack maturity would likely cause their marriage consent to be considered defective or invalid.  The younger people are when approaching marriage, the greater the chance that the relationship and marriage will not last, which is demonstrated by the fact that most of the cases that come before the Church’s marriage tribunal for consideration of an annulment are due to of a lack of discretion of judgment when the couple attempted to marry.
 
Nothing in House Bill 191 prevents a young couple genuinely involved in a mature, long-lasting relationship from eventually getting married.  Any couple intent on doing so would only have to wait until they were both 18.  On the other hand, House Bill 191 is a critically important measure in preventing the tragedy of young women being coerced or exploited through a marriage imposed on them against their will.  It is also an important measure in preventing young people from mistakenly entering into one of the most serious commitments of their lives, only to later suffer the negative consequences that the break up of that marriage would likely have on both the partners and any children born of the marriage.
 
For these reasons, we urge a favorable report on House Bill 191.

R00A03.05: Funding for Educational Organizations Aid to Nonpublic Schools – Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST)

Position: SUPPORT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) Scholarship Program allocation of $8.85 million, as included in the proposed FY2019 Operating Budget.  The Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.  We offer this testimony on behalf of the many low-income families attending Catholic schools statewide who receive BOOST scholarship assistance.  
 
The BOOST Scholarship Program provides expanded educational options for low-income students through the provision of scholarship assistance.  Scholarship recipients are certified through the State Department of Education (MSDE) and awarded through a BOOST Advisory Board, appointed by the General Assembly.  100% of scholarship recipients are eligible for the Free and Reduced-Price Meal Program (FARMs).  Now in its second school year, BOOST scholarships are empowering thousands of families across Maryland with educational options.     
 
The success of the BOOST Scholarship Program in the 2016-17 school year propelled applications to new heights for 2017-18.  For this school year, there was a 50% increase in applications, to over 4,500 certified applicants.  Around 1,650 students were waitlisted.  Priority was given to public school students and 890 public school students were awarded scholarships.   Public school students were given significantly higher scholarship amounts.
 
A report issued by MSDE on December 31, 2017, included the following highlights regarding scholarship awards made for the current school year:
 
BOOST scholarship-recipient families collectively reported an average household income of just $25,123.  
 
63% of student-recipients were minorities, including 40% African-American, 14% Latino, and 9% other minority students.  
 
744 student-recipients were reported as English Language Learners (ELLs), which were 33% of all scholarship recipients reported.  
 
More than half (58%) of new scholarship recipients attended a public school last year.
 
Over $3.7 million in scholarship dollars, or 61% of program expenditures, were awarded to public school students for 2017-18.
 
Overall, scholarships awarded to students seeking to transfer from public school increased from 21% (2016-17) to 34% (2017-18) of all awards.
 
BOOST scholarship recipients live in 21 of the 24 Maryland counties and Baltimore City.
 
Students attending schools in Baltimore City received the highest amount of total program funds (34.1% or just over $2 million), followed by students in Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties (each county at 15.6% or just under $1 million). 
 
In order to participate in the BOOST Scholarship Program, nonpublic schools were required to report on student assessments.  With the assessment requirements, MSDE fielded results from over 100 different tests.  MSDE warned that the assessment results “should be interpreted with caution”, particularly because they did not reflect a common assessment and, therefore, were not comparable across schools.  Accordingly, the Conference would welcome a narrower, nationally-norm-referenced basis of assessing student progress, so as to be able to make meaningful interpretations of the data and compare Maryland’s results with some of the thirty other states with educational options programs.  
 
In all, the BOOST Scholarship Program has helped to make Catholic schools an option for so many families.  Over 1,350 student-recipients will attend a Catholic school this year, many having transferred from a public school.  The scholarship recipient demographic data cited above mirrors that of our school families in many Catholic schools, which welcome large numbers of low-income, immigrant and first-generation, minority, and non-Catholic students.  
 
The BOOST Scholarship Program has acted as an integral supplemental source of assistance to low-income Catholic school families, fostering a partnership between Catholic schools and the State of Maryland.  In that vein, it is important to note that the recent MSDE report exemplified Catholic schools’ continuing commitment to low-income students, paralleling BOOST aid with an increase of more than $200 for the 2017-18 school year, for an average of $4,535 per student-recipient in non-BOOST assistance.  The data presented by MSDE thus exemplifies that BOOST scholarships are truly supplementing assistance to low-income students, as opposed to supplanting.  
 
Our Catholic schools, where over 1,350 BOOST scholarship recipients have chosen to be educated, remain committed to working alongside the State of Maryland in providing options for these deserving students.  It is for these reasons, on behalf of the families empowered by BOOST scholarships to choose Catholic schools, that we urge this committee and the entire General Assembly to maintain and expand the BOOST program. 

HB 96: Income Tax – Subtraction Modification – Living Organ Donors

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 96.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch) dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

HB 96 creates a subtraction modification against the State income tax for up to $7,500 of the qualified expenses incurred by a living organ donor, including the unreimbursed travel and lodging expenses and lost wages that are attributable to the organ donation.  

The Maryland Catholic Conference supports HB 96 as a way to remove any financial barriers that may prevent someone from becoming a living organ donor. (The Catholic Church does not support living donation for economic advantages which accrue to the donor.)  Pope Francis has described the act of living organ donation as a “testimony of love for our neighbor”, and such actions can help build a culture of life, a culture in which life is cherished. For this reason, the Catholic Church  welcomes initiatives such as the one created by HB 96, which encourages people to think of serving others in this way, as a form of Christian charity.

Not only does the Church condone organ transplantation, it also recognizes donation as a great act of charity and love. Pope St. John Paul II also stated, “The Catholic Church promotes the fact that there is a need for organ donors and that Christians should accept this as a challenge to their generosity and fraternal love. One of the most powerful ways for individuals to demonstrate love for their neighbor is by making the informed decision to be an organ donor.”

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges a favorable report for HB 96.  Thank you for your consideration.

HB 255: Secretary of State – Address Confidentiality Programs – Shielding of Real Property Records

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 255.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch) dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

This bill authorizes a participant in the Address Confidentiality Program for victims of domestic violence or the Human Trafficking Address Confidentiality Program (ACP) to request the shielding of real property records and establishes procedures for submitting such a request.  The bill also makes multiple changes to both programs, including enabling a participant to use an address assigned by the Office of the Secretary of State as a substitute address for all purposes.   

The Maryland Safe at Home ACP is administered by the Office of the Secretary of State and serves victims of domestic violence and victims of human trafficking.  The program is one that the Maryland Catholic Conference often promotes through parish-based education and outreach initiatives surrounding issues of human trafficking, as a way to help victims of domestic violence and human trafficking who have relocated or are about to relocate to prevent their perpetrators from obtaining their address.  

The Task Force to Study Recording Deeds for Victims of Domestic Violence (2016) was charged with determining how to protect the identity and address of participants in ACP during the transfer of real property.  The final report of the task force determined that the best option for protecting victims was to establish a deed shielding procedure that removes a deed and other recorded documents from public access, but allows for a bona fide title search.  That recommendation has resulted in HB 255, which has the full support of the Maryland Catholic Conference as another tool in helping those who are fleeing perpetrators of domestic violence and trafficking.  Pope Francis has said that “Human trafficking is a crime against humanity. We must unite our efforts to free victims and stop this crime that's become ever more aggressive, that threatens not just individuals, but the foundational values of society, our families, and communities”.

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges a favorable report for HB 255.  Thank you for your consideration.

HB 633: Secretary of State – Address Confidentiality Programs – Shielding of Real Property Records

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 633.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch) dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

This bill authorizes a participant in the Address Confidentiality Program for victims of domestic violence or the Human Trafficking Address Confidentiality Program (ACP) to request the shielding of real property records and establishes procedures for submitting such a request.  The bill also makes multiple changes to both programs, including enabling a participant to use an address assigned by the Office of the Secretary of State as a substitute address for all purposes.   

The Maryland Safe at Home ACP is administered by the Office of the Secretary of State and serves victims of domestic violence and victims of human trafficking.  The program is one that the Maryland Catholic Conference often promotes through parish-based education and outreach initiatives surrounding issues of human trafficking, as a way to help victims of domestic violence and human trafficking who have relocated or are about to relocate to prevent their perpetrators from obtaining their address.  

The Task Force to Study Recording Deeds for Victims of Domestic Violence (2016) was charged with determining how to protect the identity and address of participants in ACP during the transfer of real property.  The final report of the task force determined that the best option for protecting victims was to establish a deed shielding procedure that removes a deed and other recorded documents from public access, but allows for a bona fide title search.  That recommendation has resulted in HB 633, which has the full support of the Maryland Catholic Conference as another tool in helping those who are fleeing perpetrators of domestic violence and trafficking.  Pope Francis has said that “Human trafficking is a crime against humanity. We must unite our efforts to free victims and stop this crime that's become ever more aggressive, that threatens not just individuals, but the foundational values of society, our families, and communities”.

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges a favorable report for HB 633.  Thank you for your consideration

SB 284: Maryland Medical Assistance Program – Dental Coverage for Adults

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

Currently, the Maryland Medical Assistance Program allows for dental services for adults to be covered beginning on January 1, 2019, dependent on the individual’s household level of income and subject to the state budget and provisions in federal law.  Senate Bill 284 extends this requirement to January 1, 2020, and requires that qualifying adults receive limited dental coverage, unless comprehensive coverage is otherwise provided.  The qualification is an annual household income at or below 133 percent of the poverty level.  

The Catholic Church has a strong interest in ensuring access to quality, affordable, and life-giving health care for all.  As such, the Conference supports expanding access to health care options for those who need it, as every person has a basic right to adequate health care arising from the Church’s teaching on the sanctity and dignity of human life.  

Senate Bill 284 aims to achieve this goal by expanding Medicaid services in Maryland for qualifying adults to receive dental coverage.  Dental care is an important part of an individual’s overall physical health, and providing it for those who are less likely to be able to afford it is central to maintaining a person’s wellbeing and advancing their health.  It also closes a crucial gap for those who are unable to afford dental services, most often the vulnerable and poverty-stricken in our communities.  Providing even limited dental coverage will not only improve overall health, but also open doors by way of job opportunities and other societal benefits.

The Conference appreciates your consideration and, for these reasons, urges you to support Senate Bill 284.  

SB 373: Education – Head Start Program – Annual Appropriation

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

Senate Bill 373 mandates that the governor include at least three million dollars in his annual budget for the Head Start program.  

The Catholic Church has a strong interest in both advocating for access to quality education and alleviating poverty.  Education is often the first line of defense against the cycle of poverty that can entrap children in less than desirable circumstances as they grow and begin to participate in society.  

The Conference continually supports legislation that upholds the needs of families.  Head Start is an essential program to help alleviate poverty and benefits both young children and their parents simultaneously.  Its overarching goal is to prepare low-income children for school readiness prior to entering elementary school.  Too often there is a stark divide between low-income children entering school for the first time and children who come from families of means who are able to afford educational opportunities prior to kindergarten.  This divide ranges from basic abilities in reading to age-appropriate socialization to overcoming language barriers for children who might speak a second language at home.  Head Start works to level this playing field so low-income children are not entering kindergarten and elementary school behind their other peers.  Expanding the funding for this program is essential to serving our next generation.

The Conference appreciates your consideration and urges you to support Senate Bill 373.  

HB 249: Health Insurance – Coverage for Fertility Awareness-Based Methods

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 249.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch) dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

HB 249 requires an insurer, nonprofit health service plan, or health maintenance organization that provides hospital, medical, or surgical benefits to provide coverage for instruction by a health care practitioner on “fertility awareness-based methods.” With the exception of a grandfathered health plan, a carrier may not apply a copayment, coinsurance requirement, or deductible for this coverage. The bill applies to all policies, contracts, and health benefit plans issued, delivered, or renewed in the State on or after January 1, 2019.

Fertility awareness-based contraception, including Natural Family Planning (NFP), is an umbrella term for certain methods used to achieve and avoid pregnancies. These methods are based on observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of a woman’s fertile and infertile phases, without the use of drugs, devices, or surgical procedures to prevent pregnancy.

The Maryland Catholic Conference supports HB 249 because it ensures open access to fertility awareness-based contraceptive counseling, consistent with the open access to drug and device-based contraception that is already ensured under federal and state law.  Passage of this bill allows women who seek to make an informed decision regarding which contraception method she will utilize to have full and open access to all methods, including drug- and device- free options.

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges a favorable report for HB 249.  Thank you for your consideration.

HB 315: State Department of Education – Breakfast and Lunch Program – Funding (Maryland Cares for Kids Act)

Position: SUPPORT with Amendment

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this supporting testimony with amendment to House Bill 315.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.  

House Bill 315 would allow reduced-meal-eligible students to received breakfast and lunch entirely free under the Federal School Breakfast Program and the National School Lunch Program.  The bill would allow the State to subsidize the reduced-meal-eligible student share of the costs of reduced-priced meals.  Currently, there are approximately 45,000 reduced-meals students in public schools (not including students in schools that participate in the Community Eligibility Provision).

Although Maryland is the wealthiest state in the country, one in eight households in Maryland face constant food insecurity. Sadly, children and adolescents are not exempt from that statistic. School breakfast and lunch programs are essential to not only ending hunger, but for improving the health and educational outcomes of students who live with food insecurity.

Additionally, as part of the “State Free Feeding Program”, Maryland Education Article 7-605 reiterates that the General Assembly finds it “desirable” that “Private organizations and corporations should be encouraged to participate in the program”.  “Private organizations and corporations” include Catholic, Jewish and other nonpublic schools, agencies such as the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services and other county correctional facilities, various children’s homes, the Maryland School for the Deaf, Associated Catholic Charities, and the Kennedy Krieger Institute.  According to MSDE, among those students served free or reduced breakfast and lunch through the federal programs, “private organizations and corporations” are serving 4,167 free meals-eligible students and 619 reduced meals-eligible students. 

Since most of the aforementioned students are free-meals-eligible, there are thus only 619 students whose cost would be subsidized under the proposed amendment.  If each of those students where to eat lunch and breakfast on every school day, the annual cost would be only be $78,000. 

The attached amendment would ensure that ALL students in the State of Maryland who are FARMs-eligible and attend participating schools access to completely free breakfast and lunch under the federal programs.  It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference asks for a favorable report, inclusive of the attached amendment, for House Bill 315.  Thank you for your consideration.

Amendment One:

Page 4, line 20:  after “BOARD OF EDUCATION”, insert “OR PRIVATE ORGANIZATION OR CORPORATION”

HB 500: Child Abuse and Neglect – Failure to Report

Position: SUPPORT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  We offer this testimony in support of House Bill 500.
 
House Bill 500 would impose a misdemeanor penalty of a fine not exceeding $1,000, or imprisonment not exceeding six months or both, on an individual required to report suspected child abuse for failing to report an incident of child abuse if the person had actual knowledge of or witnessed the abuse.  House Bill 500 is an important measure for ensuring that mandated reporters take seriously their obligation to report abuse, most especially when they are aware of a clear instance of abuse.
 
Like many other institutions serving children, all Catholic parishes, diocesan schools and youth programs observe stringent child protection measures.  Our institutions conduct mandatory criminal background checks on all employees and on volunteers who work with children, provide comprehensive awareness training to educate adults and children on how to recognize predatory behaviors, and promptly report all suspected incidents of child sexual abuse.  
 
House Bill 500 is an important measure to help ensure the immediate reporting of instances of known child abuse, so that children in these situations can quickly receive the protection and services needed to at a minimum remove them from further harm.  Failing to report such instances – and thereby leaving a child in harm’s way – certainly warrants the penalties imposed by House Bill 500.
 
For these reasons, we urge a favorable report on House Bill 500.

HB 547: Education – Head Start Program – Annual Appropriation

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

House Bill 547 mandates that the governor include at least three million dollars in his annual budget for the Head Start program.  

The Catholic Church has a strong interest in both advocating for access to quality education and alleviating poverty.  Education is often the first line of defense against the cycle of poverty that can entrap children in less than desirable circumstances as they grow and begin to participate in society.  

The Conference continually supports legislation that upholds the needs of families.  Head Start is an essential program to help alleviate poverty and benefits both young children and their parents simultaneously.  Its overarching goal is to prepare low-income children for school readiness prior to entering elementary school.  Too often there is a stark divide between low-income children entering school for the first time and children who come from families of means who are able to afford educational opportunities prior to kindergarten.  This divide ranges from basic abilities in reading to age-appropriate socialization to overcoming language barriers for children who might speak a second language at home.  Head Start works to level this playing field so low-income children are not entering kindergarten and elementary school behind their other peers.  Expanding the funding for this program is essential to serving our next generation.

The Conference appreciates your consideration and urges you to support House Bill 547.  

HB 600: Child Abuse and Neglect - Training

Position: SUPPORT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  We offer this testimony in support of House Bill 600.
 
House Bill 600 would require certain professionals including health practitioners, police officers, educators, and human service workers, who are required to report suspected child abuse, to receive periodic training on the obligation to report abuse and neglect and the identification of abused and neglected children.  House Bill 600 is an important measure for ensuring that mandated reporters fully understand their obligation, and importantly, also receive training in how to recognize abuse in the first place.
 
Like many other institutions serving children, all Catholic parishes, diocesan schools and youth programs observe stringent child protection measures.  Our institutions conduct mandatory criminal background checks on all employees and on volunteers who work with children, provide comprehensive awareness training to educate adults and children on how to recognize predatory behaviors, and promptly report all suspected incidents of child sexual abuse.  
 
It has been our experience that the required training provided to all professionals in our institutions has significantly increased our ability to protect children, and to immediately address instances of suspected abuse.
 
For these reasons, we urge a favorable report on House Bill 600.
  

SB 539: Correctional Services - Restrictive Housing - Limitations

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of Senate Bill 539.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)diocese serving Maryland, including the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.
 
Senate Bill 539 places limitations on the use of restrictive housing, otherwise known as “solitary confinement”, within Maryland correctional facilities.  Furthermore, among other things, this bill would ensure that proper sanitary conditions, visitation and proper nutrition are given to inmates who are subject to restrictive housing   

Pope Francis has equated punishment involving external isolation as a form of “torture”.  He denoted that states should not be “allowed, juridically or in fact, to subordinate respect for the dignity of the human person to any other purpose, even should it serve some sort of social utility.”  (Address of Pope Francis to the Delegates of the International Association of Penal Law, October, 2014)  

In addition to violating personal dignity, solitary confinement has been shown to cause a variety of physical ailments.  In the aforementioned address, Pope Francis also noted, “As shown by studies carried out by various human rights organizations, the lack of sensory stimuli, the total impossibility of communication and the lack of contact with other human beings induce mental and physical suffering such as paranoia, anxiety, depression, weight loss, and significantly increase the suicidal tendency.”  Regardless of their offense, prisoners are already exposed to the perils of incarceration for the crimes they’ve committed.  Solitary confinement only compiles these perils and limits their hope for rehabilitation.      

The Church upholds that systems of criminal justice should seek both justice and mercy, with an emphasis upon restoration of communities, victims and offenders as a whole.  Restrictive housing is a means toward none of these ends and is a regressive policy.  It is thus important that the State of Maryland, at the very least, seriously limit its usage.  Senate Bill 539 is a step in the right direction and we urge a favorable report. 

SB 598: Correctional Services – Inmates – Menstrual Hygiene Products

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of Senate Bill 598.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch) dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

SB 598 ensures that the correctional facilities in the Department of Corrections (DOC) have a sufficient supply of menstrual hygiene products available to meet the needs of the inmate population at all times.  Each facility must have a written policy and procedure in place requiring menstrual hygiene products to be provided at no cost to female inmates. 

In many correctional facilities across the nation, simple feminine hygiene supplies including pads and tampons can become bargaining chips, used to maintain control by correction officers, or traded among incarcerated women, according to former inmates and advocates on the issue. Subjecting women to a woeful shortage of basic hygiene products can lead to mental health concerns, diminished overall physical health, and strip women of human dignity and self-worth.

When visiting with inmates at a Philadelphia, PA prison in 2015, Pope Francis told them, “This time in your life can only have one purpose: to give you a hand in getting back on the right road, to give you a hand to help you rejoin society. All of us are part of that effort, all of us are invited to encourage, help and enable your rehabilitation. A rehabilitation which everyone seeks and desires: inmates and their families, correctional authorities, social and educational programs. A rehabilitation which benefits and elevates the morale of the entire community.”  Through the passage of SB 598, Maryland can elevate the morale and well-being of the incarcerated women in the state, providing them the most basic of needs and restoring their human dignity.

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges a favorable report for SB 598.  Thank you for your consideration.

HB 430: Education – Child Care Subsidies – Mandatory Funding Levels

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

Currently, funding levels for the Child Care Subsidy Program only cover ten percent of the community’s child care options.  Federal guidelines suggest the subsidies should open up seventy-five percent of the options; in this regard, Maryland falls woefully behind.  The Governor’s budget for this important program decreased by $10.1 million in FY19.   An increase in funding beyond what is currently budgeted for FY19 will increase the child care service options available to parents, most importantly those in low-income communities.  

The Catholic Church has a strong interest in alleviating poverty.  Providing working low-income parents with child care services is a significant way to ease the burden of poverty.  Often, a barrier to sustainable and full-time employment is the availability and affordability of reliable child care services.  The Child Care Subsidy Program aims to remove those barriers by increasing access to child care services for low-income parents and making it more affordable, thus providing more equal access to child care services for low-income Marylanders.  It’s also expected to assist child care providers who serve low-income communities by allowing for more stable payments by clients.  In creating such stability, it’s anticipated that the quality of child care in low-income communities will increase.  

The Conference appreciates your consideration and urges you to support House Bill 430.  

HB 461: Victims and Witnesses – U Nonimmigrant Status – Certification of Victim Helpfulness

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

House Bill 461 authorizes a victim or victim's family member to request a certifying official to attest to a victim’s helpfulness on Form I-918, Supplement B for purposes of filing a petition for U Nonimmigrant Status, and requires the certifying official to sign and complete the certification within a specific time frame. The bill also provides that a victim shall be considered to be helpful, have been helpful, or likely to be helpful to the detection, investigation, or prosecution of a qualifying criminal activity.

The U Nonimmigrant Status (U Visa) was created by Congress in 2000 with the passage of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act for victims of certain crimes who are helpful to in some aspect of the enforcement and/or prosecution of those crimes . The U Visa is not only helpful for solving crimes, but also for encouraging to immigrants to actually go to the police when they are victims of or witnesses to crimes rather than allowing crimes to go unreported. Police-immigrant interactions are often laden with fear, yet the U Visa is a method for helping to change interactions from fearful and negative to something positive and helpful. Furthermore, when it is safer for immigrants to report crimes, whole communities become safer as crimes get solved and people who commit crimes are held accountable for their actions.

The Church works to protect the needs of all who are vulnerable in society. A victim of a crime is in need of protection and support –regardless of one’s immigration status at the time the crime occurred. This legislation is necessary for clarifying the U Visa process by creating a deadline for the Form I-918, Supplement B to be completed and specifically stating the victim’s or witness’s helpfulness in the investigation and/or prosecution of a crime, which will in turn assist both immigrants who qualify for U Visas and law enforcement.

The Conference appreciates your consideration and, for these reasons, urges you to support House Bill 461.  

SB 533: Criminal Law – Homicide –Unborn Child (Laura and Reid’s Law)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of Senate Bill 533.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

SB 533 will expand Maryland law to establish a crime of manslaughter or murder when a fetus is killed before 24 weeks of pregnancy as a result of an attack on a pregnant woman. The leading cause of pregnancy-associated death in Maryland is homicide, the majority of which were committed by current or former intimate partners.  Fetal homicide most commonly occurs during the first three months of pregnancy.

The Catholic Church firmly believes in protecting the well-being and safety of all people from violence, especially from violence in the home. This legislation aims to strengthen protections for pregnant women and their unborn child who are victims of violence.  This support is consistent with Catholic social teaching that reveres the inherent and inviolable dignity of all human life. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has stated: “As the Catholic Church in the United States, we state as clearly and strongly as we can that violence against women, inside or outside the home, is never justified. Violence in any form — ‘physical, sexual, psychological, or verbal’—is sinful.” By allowing charges for fetal homicide to apply to a fetus less than 24-weeks gestation, this legislation will act as a deterrent to future violent crimes against pregnant women and will enable law enforcement to charge offenders for fetal homicides that are now shielded from those charges because of current law.

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges a favorable report for SB 533.  Thank you for your consideration.

SB 379: Education – Child Care Subsidies – Mandatory Funding Levels

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

Currently, funding levels for the Child Care Subsidy Program only cover ten percent of the community’s child care options.  Federal guidelines suggest the subsidies should open up seventy-five percent of the options; in this regard, Maryland falls woefully behind.  The Governor’s budget for this important program decreased by $10.1 million in FY19.   An increase in funding beyond what is currently budgeted for FY19 will increase the child care service options available to parents, most importantly those in low-income communities.  

The Catholic Church has a strong interest in alleviating poverty.  Providing working low-income parents with child care services is a significant way to ease the burden of poverty.  Often, a barrier to sustainable and full-time employment is the availability and affordability of reliable child care services.  The Child Care Subsidy Program aims to remove those barriers by increasing access to child care services for low-income parents and making it more affordable, thus providing more equal access to child care services for low-income Marylanders.  It’s also expected to assist child care providers who serve low-income communities by allowing for more stable payments by clients.  In creating such stability, it’s anticipated that the quality of child care in low-income communities will increase.  

The Conference appreciates your consideration and urges you to support Senate Bill 379.  

SB 402: Education - Family Life and Human Sexuality Curriculum - Boundaries and Consent

Position: SUPPORT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  We offer this testimony in support of the concept of Senate Bill 402.
 
Senate Bill 402 would require county boards to include age-appropriate instruction on the meaning of consent and respect for personal boundaries as part of the family life and human sexuality curriculum in every grade in which the curriculum is taught in public schools. 
 
While the bill does not specifically apply to nonpublic schools, it is important to note that all Catholic parishes, diocesan schools and youth programs provide comprehensive awareness training to educate adults and children on how to recognize inappropriate and predatory behaviors that could lead to sexual abuse, including training on violations of personal boundaries.  
 
As a result, the Conference enthusiastically supported House Bill 72, Erin’s Law, which passed in 2016 requiring all public and certain nonpublic schools in include sexual abuse prevention training in their health curriculum.  The Maryland Catholic Conference and representatives from the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Archdiocese of Washington have participated in a workgroup to implement House Bill 72, and as noted in the fiscal note for Senate Bill 402, the health education framework developed by the workgroup includes performance indicators related to consent and setting personal boundaries.
 
While we therefore do not think enactment of Senate Bill 402 is necessary, we offer this statement in demonstration of our commitment to the goal of the bill.
 

SB 422: Income Tax - Credit for Child and Dependent Care Expenses - Income Eligibility

Position: SUPPORT 

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of Senate Bill 422.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.
 
Senate Bill 422 significantly expands the state tax credit for child and dependent care by increasing the income threshold for both individual and married filers.  The total number of Maryland taxpayers who will qualify for this credit will increase from 44,000 to 130,000.  Additionally, an expanded number of families will be eligible to claim the subtraction modification for child and dependent care expenses at the state level.

The Church views the family unit as the cornerstone of society and measures should be taken to strengthen and support it.  Pope Francis has reasoned that benefits “which society offers its citizens are not a type of alms, but rather a genuine ‘social debt’ with respect to the institution of the family, which is foundational and which contributes to the common good.” (Homily for the Holy Mass for Families, Guayaquil, Equador, 6/15/15)  Similarly, the expansion of the child and dependent care credit is a foundational, sound investment in Maryland families.     

Additionally, the credit and associated subtraction modification have always been viewed as a means to support working parents.  The ever-rising costs of child and other dependent care often make it very difficult for caregivers to earn gainfully in caring for their families.  Pope Francis has cautioned that there is “no worse material poverty… than the poverty which prevents people from earning their bread and deprives them of the dignity of work.”  (Address to the Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice Foundation, Vatican City, 5/25/13)  In that vein, the Conference backs SB 422 in support of the dignity of work and in empowering parents and caregivers in earning a living.       

The Conference supports this bill as a means toward financially stabilizing and strengthening families.  The child and dependent care credit has been a proven means of such assistance and Senate Bill 422 would expand the credit and associated subtraction modification to thousands more lower-to-middle income Maryland families.  Therefore, the Conference encourages a favorable report for Senate Bill 422.    

SB 467: Sales and Use Tax - Tax-Free Period for Back-to-School Shopping - School Supplies

Position: SUPPORT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of Senate Bill 467.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.
 
We offer our support for Senate Bill 467, which would expand current law to include all school supplies to the items that are currently exempt during the State’s annual sales tax-free period for back-to-school shopping.  This tax-free time period runs from the second Sunday in August through the following Saturday.
 
Currently, sales tax exemptions during the state’s annual back-to-school shopping week include items of clothing under $100 and backpacks under $40.  As where school supplies are one of the most integral considerations in a student’s preparedness, each student should be encouraged to enter the school year with a full complement of the items necessary for success.  One might argue that a book bag full of the proper school supplies is far paramount to having a new book bag itself, an item that is already sales tax-exempt during back-to-school shopping week.  
 
Particularly in the lowest-income schools and districts, if parents and students were afforded increased buying power due to the money saved from a temporary sales tax reprieve, students who traditionally face challenges to being materially prepared to learn will have an increased chance of success.   
 
Additionally, as Maryland’s Catholic schools educate tens of thousands of lower and middle-income families every year, the Maryland Catholic Conference offers its support for Senate Bill 467 as a means of assisting those families.  We thus encourage your support and a favorable report for Senate Bill 467.

SB 528: Hate Crimes Group Victim

Position: SUPPORT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  We offer this testimony in support of Senate Bill 528.
 
Senate Bill 528 would amend our state’s current hate crimes law to clarify that it applies to an act or an attempt to harm a person or group or their property because of the person’s or group’s race, color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, or national origin, or because a person is homeless.  
 
At a time when our society is increasingly marred by incidents of intolerance both locally and nationally, it is critical that our communities take a strong and united stance against such acts.  In response to the increase of such incidents, both the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Bishops of Maryland have created committees to address the sin of racism and to develop concrete action plans to address the issue in our Church and in society.  As Archbishop Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore noted when announcing the creation of a Racism Task Force in Maryland, “The dreadful spectacle of violence and racism displayed in Charlottesville by various white supremacist groups is a shocking reminder of how much work still needs to be done to eradicate the sin of racism in our country, our state, and our local communities.”
 
We believe Senate Bill 528 strengthens existing law and offers an important signal that threatening to harm a person or group or their property simply because of their identity is inimical to the peace and fraternity that we should all strive for in our diverse society.
 
For these reasons, we urge a favorable report on Senate Bill 528.
 
ARCHBISHOP LORI ANNOUNCES STATEWIDE TASK FORCE ON RACISM
 
In an effort to better improve race relations and to address the sin of racism that continues to be a divisive force in our country, Archbishop William E. Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore and Chairman of the Maryland Catholic Conference, announced the creation of a statewide task force on racism.  Co-chaired by Bishop Denis J. Madden, auxiliary bishop emeritus and urban vicar of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and Bishop Roy E. Campbell, Jr., auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, the workgroup includes leaders from the state’s Catholic African-American and Latino communities, legislators, historians, scholars and others who will bring a diverse perspective to the important work of the task force.
 
The group held its first meeting in Baltimore on September 25, 2017.
 
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops created a Task Force on Peace and Unity last year in response to heightened racial tensions around the country, including the riots surrounding the death of Freddie Gray here in Maryland and recently announced the creation of an ongoing Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, to which Archbishop Lori has been named a Consultor.  Committee chairman, Bishop George J. Murry, SJ, said the Committee will “listen to the needs of individuals who have suffered under the sin of racism and together find solutions to this epidemic of hate that has plagued our nation for far too long."
 
They also invited local bishops to examine the issue and promote ways of addressing racism in local dioceses.
 
“The dreadful spectacle of violence and racism displayed in Charlottesville by various white supremacist groups is a shocking reminder of how much work still needs to be done to eradicate the sin of racism in our country, our state, and our local communities,” Archbishop Lori said.  “While many good efforts are ongoing within the Catholic Church here in Maryland, we know that we are far from where we need to be in fostering a truly loving, diverse community where all are welcomed and embraced, regardless of the color of their skin, the language they speak, or their country of origin.  
 
“This effort will require the courage to take an honest look at our past, the humility to repent of the ways we have actively caused pain or turned a deaf ear to those who suffer from the evil of racism, and a firm faith in the power of God’s love as we begin the path to reconciliation.  We ask for the prayers of Maryland’s Catholic community and all people of good will as we turn to this work with renewed zeal and urgency.  May St. Peter Claver inspire and bless our coming together as we journey ever closer toward building the kingdom of God.”    

SB 581: Criminal Procedure – Immigration – U Nonimmigrant Status and Enforcement

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

Senate Bill 581 authorizes a victim or victim's family member to request a certifying official to attest to a victim’s helpfulness on Form I-918, Supplement B for purposes of filing a petition for U Nonimmigrant Status, and requires the certifying official to sign and complete the certification within a specific time frame. The bill also provides that a victim shall be considered to be helpful, have been helpful, or likely to be helpful to the detection, investigation, or prosecution of a qualifying criminal activity.

The U Nonimmigrant Status (U Visa) was created by Congress in 2000 with the passage of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act for victims of certain crimes who are helpful to in some aspect of the enforcement and/or prosecution of those crimes . The U Visa is not only helpful for solving crimes, but also for encouraging to immigrants to actually go to the police when they are victims of or witnesses to crimes rather than allowing crimes to go unreported. Police-immigrant interactions are often laden with fear, yet the U Visa is a method for helping to change interactions from fearful and negative to something positive and helpful. Furthermore, when it is safer for immigrants to report crimes, whole communities become safer as crimes get solved and people who commit crimes are held accountable for their actions.

The Church works to protect the needs of all who are vulnerable in society. A victim of a crime is in need of protection and support –regardless of one’s immigration status at the time the crime occurred. This legislation is necessary for clarifying the U Visa process by creating a deadline for the Form I-918, Supplement B to be completed and specifically stating the victim’s or witness’s helpfulness in the investigation and/or prosecution of a crime, which will in turn assist both immigrants who qualify for U Visas and law enforcement.

The Conference appreciates your consideration and, for these reasons, urges you to support Senate Bill 581.  

HB 519: Income Tax - Credit for Child and Dependent Care Expenses - Income Eligibility

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 519.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.
 
House Bill 519 significantly expands the state tax credit for child and dependent care by increasing the income threshold for both individual and married filers.  The total number of Maryland taxpayers who will qualify for this credit will increase from 44,000 to 130,000.  Additionally, an expanded number of families will be eligible to claim the subtraction modification for child and dependent care expenses at the state level.

The Church views the family unit as the cornerstone of society and measures should be taken to strengthen and support it.  Pope Francis has reasoned that benefits “which society offers its citizens are not a type of alms, but rather a genuine ‘social debt’ with respect to the institution of the family, which is foundational and which contributes to the common good.” (Homily for the Holy Mass for Families, Guayaquil, Equador, 6/15/15)  Similarly, the expansion of the child and dependent care credit is a foundational, sound investment in Maryland families.     

Additionally, the credit and associated subtraction modification have always been viewed as a means to support working parents.  The ever-rising costs of child and other dependent care often make it very difficult for caregivers to earn gainfully in caring for their families.  Pope Francis has cautioned that there is “no worse material poverty… than the poverty which prevents people from earning their bread and deprives them of the dignity of work.”  (Address to the Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice Foundation, Vatican City, 5/25/13)  In that vein, the Conference backs HB 519 in support of the dignity of work and in empowering parents and caregivers in earning a living.       

The Conference supports this bill as a means toward financially stabilizing and strengthening families.  The child and dependent care credit has been a proven means of such assistance and House Bill 519 would expand the credit and associated subtraction modification to thousands more lower-to-middle income Maryland families.  Therefore, the Conference encourages a favorable report for House Bill 519.   

HB 573: Income Tax – Earned Income Tax Credit – Eligibility Awareness Campaign

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

HB 573 requires the Department of Human Resources (DHR) and the Comptroller to implement and administer an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) eligibility awareness program to encourage eligible individuals to claim both the federal and state EITC. The bill also establishes the EITC Eligibility Awareness Campaign Fund and requires DHR to request certain taxpayer information from the Comptroller in order to identify potentially eligible individuals and contact the individuals by mail.

The EITC is a successful anti-poverty tool that provides a meaningful boost to low-income workers and families, enabling them to make necessary purchases, such as making a major home repair, and take care of basic needs. Yet, many individuals and families in Maryland are not utilizing the EITC for a number of different reasons. The Department of Legislative Services noted that Maryland’s current 76.4% participation rate in the EITC ranks 38th among all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and just a 1% increase in participation would benefit 5,600 households. Increased utilization of the EITC not only benefits households, but is a boost to local economies since every $1 that is invested in the EITC generates $1.24 for the economy. The Conference supports outreach initiatives that will expand the scope and use of the EITC in Maryland.

The Conference appreciates your consideration and urges a favorable report on House Bill 573.  

SB 308: Foster Care Recipients and Unaccompanied Homeless Youth - Employment Program (Fostering Employment Act of 2018)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of the Senate Bill 308.  The Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

Senate Bill 308 would require the development of a program to provide job training opportunities to foster care recipients and unaccompanied homeless youth.  Currently, foster care recipients and unaccompanied homeless youth are eligible to receive tuition waivers at public higher education institutions.  However, not all qualify for the tuition waivers, particularly when a youth is participating in a registered apprenticeship or other job training program that is not associated or currently partnering with an institution of higher education.  This bill would allow for an expansion of benefits to foster care recipients and unaccompanied homeless youth by establishing a “Fostering Employment Program”, which would allow those young people to obtain credentials that would render them job-ready.  Lastly, it is important to note that this program can be implemented with little or no cost to the state, through leveraging existing federal funding. 

Often, foster care recipients and unaccompanied homeless youth face significant financial challenges.  Laudably, the State of Maryland has taken recent steps to provide these youth an opportunity for a tuition-exempt education, which provides them a path to financial independence.  However, higher education is not always either a feasible or proper fit for every youth.  Senate Bill 308 would ensure that those who seek apprenticeship or job training are not left out and are given the same opportunities as their counterparts to advance both educationally and economically. 

Pope Francis has routinely stressed the importance of providing such opportunities for those of limited means, which includes “education, …and above all employment, for it is through free, creative, participatory and mutually supportive labor that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives.”  (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 192). 

Senate Bill 308 will assist in providing both knowledge and skill, with an aim toward eventually gainful employment, to youth who might otherwise face serious obstacles to obtaining those things.  It is for these reasons that we urge a favorable report for Senate Bill 308.      

SB 513: Food Stamp Program – Time Limit Waiver - Prohibition

Position: OPPOSE

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

Currently, a state is able to apply for and subsequently implement a federal waiver of the time limit on the receipt of benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by an able-bodied adult without dependents (ABAWD) who does not meet specified work requirements.  House Bill 1273 would eliminate the waiver option for Maryland, which would mean that ABAWD would only be able to receive SNAP benefits for a three month period over three years.  

The Catholic Church has a strong interest in alleviating poverty.  Pope Francis stated that “[a] way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table, but above all to satisfy the demands of justice, fairness and respect for every human being.”  Enabling all people to be able to put food on the table and not worry where their next meal is coming from is an integral part of helping to end cycles of poverty that can permeate entire families.  

One’s right to work is also a strong tenant of the Catholic faith.  However, a component of that is access to adequate and life-sustaining employment, a truth that is not always achievable in many communities across the state.  There are significant factors that play into the achievability of such employment, including the number of available jobs, reliable transportation, and salary and wage levels in nearby industries.  Further, the average benefit received under SNAP is $121 a month, hardly a substantial amount to supplement a person’s income and lift them completely out of poverty.

The Conference appreciates your consideration and urges an unfavorable report on Senate Bill 513.  

SB 578: Secretary of State – Address Confidentiality Programs – Shielding of Real Property Records

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of Senate Bill 578.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch) dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

This bill authorizes a participant in the Address Confidentiality Program for victims of domestic violence or the Human Trafficking Address Confidentiality Program (ACP) to request the shielding of real property records and establishes procedures for submitting such a request.  The bill also makes multiple changes to both programs, including enabling a participant to use an address assigned by the Office of the Secretary of State as a substitute address for all purposes. 

The Maryland Safe at Home ACP is administered by the Office of the Secretary of State and serves victims of domestic violence and victims of human trafficking.  The program is one that the Maryland Catholic Conference often promotes through parish-based education and outreach initiatives surrounding issues of human trafficking, as a way to help victims of domestic violence and human trafficking who have relocated or are about to relocate to prevent their perpetrators from obtaining their address.  

The Task Force to Study Recording Deeds for Victims of Domestic Violence (2016) was charged with determining how to protect the identity and address of participants in ACP during the transfer of real property.  The final report of the task force determined that the best option for protecting victims was to establish a deed shielding procedure that removes a deed and other recorded documents from public access, but allows for a bona fide title search.  That recommendation has resulted in SB 578, which has the full support of the Maryland Catholic Conference as another tool in helping those who are fleeing perpetrators of domestic violence and trafficking.  Pope Francis has said that “Human trafficking is a crime against humanity. We must unite our efforts to free victims and stop this crime that's become ever more aggressive, that threatens not just individuals, but the foundational values of society, our families, and communities”.

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges a favorable report for SB 578.  Thank you for your consideration.

SB 621: Real Property - Deletion of Ownership Restrictions Based on Race, Religious Belief, or National Origin

Position: SUPPORT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  We offer this testimony in support of Senate Bill 621.
 
Senate Bill 621 would facilitate the removal of unlawfully restrictive covenants that restrict property ownership on the basis of race, religious belief, or national origin.  Such covenants, while no longer enforceable, represent a painful and offensive reminder of past racist practices and policies, and it is important to eradicate them whenever possible.  
 
At a time when our society is increasingly marred by incidents of intolerance both locally and nationally, it is critical that our communities take a strong and united stance against such acts.  In response to the increase of such incidents, both the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Bishops of Maryland have created committees to address the sin of racism and to develop concrete action plans to address the issue in our Church and in society. 
 
As Archbishop Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore noted in the pastoral letter he released on Ash Wednesday, The Enduring Power of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Principles of Nonviolence, “Weighing heavily on our minds and hearts is the sin of racism that continues, sometimes overtly but often subtly, to insinuate itself in our relationships, institutions and communities of faith, including our own. Indeed, the sin of racism has tarnished the soul of our society for so long that racist attitudes can be deeply embedded in our subconscious, such that we may hardly know they are there. We must bring to light such attitudes and overcome them.’
 
Senate Bill 621 is a step toward that goal, and we urge a favorable report.

HB 251: Education - Family Life and Human Sexuality Curriculum - Boundaries and Consent

Position: SUPPORT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  We offer this testimony in support of the concept of House Bill 251.
 
House Bill 251 would require county boards to include age-appropriate instruction on the meaning of consent and respect for personal boundaries as part of the family life and human sexuality curriculum in every grade in which the curriculum is taught in public schools. 
 
While the bill does not specifically apply to nonpublic schools, it is important to note that all Catholic parishes, diocesan schools and youth programs provide comprehensive awareness training to educate adults and children on how to recognize inappropriate and predatory behaviors that could lead to sexual abuse, including training on violations of personal boundaries.  
 
As a result, the Conference enthusiastically supported House Bill 72, Erin’s Law, which passed in 2016 requiring all public and certain nonpublic schools to include sexual abuse prevention training in their health curriculum.  The Maryland Catholic Conference and representatives from the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Archdiocese of Washington have participated in a workgroup to implement House Bill 72, and as noted in the fiscal note for House Bill 251, the health education framework developed by the workgroup includes performance indicators related to consent and setting personal boundaries.
 
While we therefore do not think enactment of House Bill 251 is necessary, we offer this statement in demonstration of our commitment to the goal of the bill.

HB 431: Foster Care Recipients and Unaccompanied Homeless Youth - Employment Program (Fostering Employment Act of 2018)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of the House Bill 431.  The Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

House Bill 431 would require the development of a program to provide job training opportunities to foster care recipients and unaccompanied homeless youth.  Currently, foster care recipients and unaccompanied homeless youth are eligible to receive tuition waivers at public higher education institutions.  However, not all qualify for the tuition waivers, particularly when a youth is participating in a registered apprenticeship or other job training program that is not associated or currently partnering with an institution of higher education.  This bill would allow for an expansion of benefits to foster care recipients and unaccompanied homeless youth by establishing a “Fostering Employment Program”, which would allow those young people to obtain credentials that would render them job-ready.  Lastly, it is important to note that this program can be implemented with little or no cost to the state, through leveraging existing federal funding. 

Often, foster care recipients and unaccompanied homeless youth face significant financial challenges.  Laudably, the State of Maryland has taken recent steps to provide these youth an opportunity for a tuition-exempt education, which provides them a path to financial independence.  However, higher education is not always either a feasible or proper fit for every youth.  House Bill 431 would ensure that those who seek apprenticeship or job training are not left out and are given the same opportunities as their counterparts to advance both educationally and economically. 

Pope Francis has routinely stressed the importance of providing such opportunities for those of limited means, which includes “education, …and above all employment, for it is through free, creative, participatory and mutually supportive labor that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives.”  (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 192). 

House Bill 431 will assist in providing both knowledge and skill, with an aim toward eventually gainful employment, to youth who might otherwise face serious obstacles to obtaining those things.  It is for these reasons that we urge a favorable report for House Bill 431.      

HB 622: Public and Nonpublic Schools – Student Sickle Cell Disease Management Programs

Position: Support with Amendment

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this supporting testimony with amendment to House  Bill 622.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders and nearly 50,000 Catholic school students. 

House  Bill 622 would require both public and nonpublic schools to comply with several guidelines regarding management plans for student sickle cell disease.  Among those requirements are for schools to provide special training for employees who volunteer to act as designated care providers for students managing sickle cell disease. 

The Conference supports the purpose and aim of this legislative proposal, as Maryland Catholic schools often have management plans already in place for student sickle cell disease, as well as other health conditions.  In doing so, Catholic schools recognize the importance of caring for students who have health needs that require special attention, so as to ensure that their daily educational experience is unencumbered by the demands of the particular care needed. 

However, student disease management plans are often tailored specifically to the student in need.  These plans are usually either doctor or parent-derived and schools make every effort to ensure that students can be cared for prudently and diligently within those guidelines.  Accordingly, parents choose Catholic and other nonpublic schools because they feel it is best particular educational option for their child, often due to increased attention to their particular needs.  It is thus important that parents and students maintain the unique benefit of autonomous, individual attention that their chosen school can provide, including their particular health needs. 

Thus, the Catholic Conference offers an amendment that would allow nonpublic schools to be guided by state regulation, but would allow them to maintain the child-specific, parent or doctor-derived plans already in place.  If this legislative proposal were to pass as written, nonpublic schools’ ability to tailor student care plans may be jeopardized.  Moreover, the significant number of lower-income Catholic schools throughout the state, particularly in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County, could be burdened with a significant cost in complying with this legislation in the manner proscribed.   

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference asks for a favorable report for House  Bill 622, but with the attached amendment, affording nonpublic schools the ability to tailor their own management plans to particular students, as has been maintained other areas of student healthcare.  Thank you for your consideration.

Proposed Amendments to HB 622
“Public and Nonpublic Schools – Student Sickle Cell Disease Management Programs”
Amendment One: Page 4, line 2, delete “shall” and insert “may”

HB 786: Correctional Services - Restrictive Housing - Limitations

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 786.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

House Bill 786 places limitations on the use of restrictive housing, otherwise known as “solitary confinement”, within Maryland correctional facilities.  Furthermore, among other things, this bill would ensure that proper sanitary conditions, visitation and proper nutrition are given to inmates who are subject to restrictive housing   

Pope Francis has equated punishment involving external isolation as a form of “torture”.  He denoted that states should not be “allowed, juridically or in fact, to subordinate respect for the dignity of the human person to any other purpose, even should it serve some sort of social utility.”  (Address of Pope Francis to the Delegates of the International Association of Penal Law, October, 2014)  

In addition to violating personal dignity, solitary confinement has been shown to cause a variety of physical ailments.  In the aforementioned address, Pope Francis also noted, “As shown by studies carried out by various human rights organizations, the lack of sensory stimuli, the total impossibility of communication and the lack of contact with other human beings induce mental and physical suffering such as paranoia, anxiety, depression, weight loss, and significantly increase the suicidal tendency.”  Regardless of their offense, prisoners are already exposed to the perils of incarceration for the crimes they’ve committed.  Solitary confinement only compiles these perils and limits their hope for rehabilitation.      

The Church upholds that systems of criminal justice should seek both justice and mercy, with an emphasis upon restoration of communities, victims and offenders as a whole.  Restrictive housing is a means toward none of these ends and is a regressive policy.  It is thus important that the State of Maryland, at the very least, seriously limit its usage.  House Bill 786 is a step in the right direction and we urge a favorable report. 

HB 787: Correctional Facilities – Pregnant Inmates – Medical Care House Judiciary Committee

Informational Testimony

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this informational testimony on House Bill 787.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

The Maryland Catholic Conference has a long history of supporting policies which enhance the quality of healthcare for pregnant women, especially those who may not have access to satisfactory prenatal care because of incarceration, poverty, homelessness, or other vulnerable life circumstances.  Through numerous prison ministry and outreach programs in the State, the Church’s support of incarcerated men and women is consistent with Catholic social teaching that reveres the inherent and inviolable dignity of all human persons. 

Unfortunately, we cannot support HB 787 as introduced because of certain language it contains. Among our concerns are those provisions that refer to access to abortion, including information about abortion providers and transportation to receive an abortion.  The Church’s opposition to abortion is well known, and while the practice of counseling incarcerated pregnant women on access to abortion no doubt already occurs, we cannot support this aspect of the bill, particularly given the vulnerability of an incarcerated pregnant woman.  Further, we believe there is a significant omission to the measure, since it does not enumerate and enable access to other pregnancy options, including (but not limited to) access to Child Placement Resources such as adoption information and resources, foster care connections, and information on kinship care. If the goal of HB 787 is to provide pregnant inmates with the care and information they deserve as expecting mothers, then we strongly believe that the option of carrying a child to term should be enumerated and accessible and have a place in the written policies of all correctional facilities within the State.

The bill’s express inclusion of abortion services, while omitting any other pregnancy outcome option, fails to provide incarcerated women with the knowledge and choices they deserve. Therefore we cannot support the bill as introduced. Indeed, the legislation contains numerous provisions which aim to strengthen a pregnant inmate’s quality of care, but fails to offer her a full spectrum of information as she looks to make the best decision concerning the future of her child and her family. 

Thank you for your consideration.

HB 797: Correctional Services – Inmates – Menstrual Hygiene Products

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 797.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch) dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

HB 797 ensures that the correctional facilities in the Department of Corrections (DOC) have a sufficient supply of menstrual hygiene products available to meet the needs of the inmate population at all times.  Each facility must have a written policy and procedure in place requiring menstrual hygiene products to be provided at no cost to female inmates. 

In many correctional facilities across the nation, simple feminine hygiene supplies including pads and tampons can become bargaining chips, used to maintain control by correction officers, or traded among incarcerated women, according to former inmates and advocates on the issue. Subjecting women to a woeful shortage of basic hygiene products can lead to mental health concerns, diminished overall physical health, and strip women of human dignity and self-worth.

When visiting with inmates at a Philadelphia, PA prison in 2015, Pope Francis told them, “This time in your life can only have one purpose: to give you a hand in getting back on the right road, to give you a hand to help you rejoin society. All of us are part of that effort, all of us are invited to encourage, help and enable your rehabilitation. A rehabilitation which everyone seeks and desires: inmates and their families, correctional authorities, social and educational programs. A rehabilitation which benefits and elevates the morale of the entire community.”  Through the passage of HB 797, Maryland can elevate the morale and well-being of the incarcerated women in the state, providing them the most basic of needs and restoring their human dignity.

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges a favorable report for HB 797.  Thank you for your consideration.

HB 1273: Food Stamp Program – Time Limit Waiver - Prohibition

Position: OPPOSE

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

Currently, a state is able to apply for and subsequently implement a federal waiver of the time limit on the receipt of benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by an able-bodied adult without dependents (ABAWD) who does not meet specified work requirements.  House Bill 1273 would eliminate the waiver option for Maryland, which would mean that ABAWD would only be able to receive SNAP benefits for a three month period over three years.  

The Catholic Church has a strong interest in alleviating poverty.  Pope Francis stated that “[a] way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table, but above all to satisfy the demands of justice, fairness and respect for every human being.”  Enabling all people to be able to put food on the table and not worry where their next meal is coming from is an integral part of helping to end cycles of poverty that can permeate entire families.  

One’s right to work is also a strong tenant of the Catholic faith.  However, a component of that is access to adequate and life-sustaining employment, a truth that is not always achievable in many communities across the state.  There are significant factors that play into the achievability of such employment, including the number of available jobs, reliable transportation, and salary and wage levels in nearby industries.  Further, the average benefit received under SNAP is $121 a month, hardly a substantial amount to supplement a person’s income and lift them completely out of poverty.

The Conference appreciates your consideration and urges an unfavorable report on House Bill 1273.  

SB 526: Labor and Employment – Regulation of Farm Labor Contractors and Foreign Labor Contractors

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

Senate Bill 526 expands the current farm labor contracting state licensing statute to all foreign labor contractors by requiring an individual to be licensed by the Commissioner of Labor and Industry before the individual may perform a foreign labor contracting service in the State for consideration, and for all employers to use only licensed contractors to perform contracting services. 

The Catholic Church strongly opposes human trafficking because it disregards the dignity of human life. Although anti-human trafficking efforts often focus on sex trafficking, the Church reminds us to turn our attention to labor trafficking that is very prevalent in the United States as well. The Church is also a strong advocate for immigrants and the needs and rights of workers.

Many people come to Maryland through visa programs that allow them to work here for certain amounts of time and they do not deserve to be exploited in that process. Sadly, it is far too common for the terms of employment to be misrepresented and/or for contractors to charge exorbitant fees that put workers in debt bondage. Expanding the state licensing requirement to apply to all foreign labor contractors gives the State greater ability to determine which foreign labor contractors can operate in the State, ensures that workers receive truthful contracts, prohibits contractors from charging workers any fees for their services, and promotes transparency for businesses, workers, and the State by establishing a public registry of all licensed contractors. This legislation is a recognition of the need for regulation in the foreign labor recruitment process to prevent such exploitation. 

Pope Francis said, “Human trafficking is a crime against humanity. We must unite our efforts to free the victims and stop this increasingly aggressive crime which threatens not only individuals but the basic values of society and of international security and justice.” Let us unite in our efforts to prevent labor trafficking in Maryland.

The Conference appreciates your consideration and, for these reasons, urges a favorable report on Senate Bill 526.  

SB 671: Hate Crimes - Threats and Penalties

Position: SUPPORT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  We offer this testimony in support of Senate Bill 671.
 
Senate Bill 671 would expand our state’s current hate crimes laws to apply, not only to an act or an attempt, but also to a threat to harm a targeted individual or group or their property because of their race, color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, or national origin, or because a person is homeless.  
 
At a time when our society is increasingly marred by incidents of intolerance, it is critical that our communities take a strong and united stance against such acts.  We believe this measure offers an important signal that threatening to harm a person or religious community or their property simply because of their identity is inimical to the peace and fraternity that we should all strive for in our diverse society.  
 
As Pope Francis stated in a 2013 address to a delegation from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, “Wherever any minority is persecuted and marginalized because of its religious convictions or ethnic identity, the wellbeing of society as a whole is endangered and each one of us must feel affected.”  
 
For these reasons, we urge the committee’s serious consideration of Senate Bill 671.

SB 869: Criminal Procedure - Motion to Vacate Judgment - Human Trafficking

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of Senate Bill 869.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch) dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

This bill authorizes a person convicted of a civil offense, or a criminal offense other than a crime of violence, to file a motion to vacate the judgment in the case in which the conviction was entered if the person’s participation in the offense was a direct result of having been a victim of human trafficking.

Human trafficking victims, especially sex trafficking, are arrested and convicted for acts over which they had no choice, and are rarely identified as such at the time of their arrest or at any time during the judicial process. Quite often, convictions can prevent trafficking victims from gainful employment, receiving or furthering their education, receiving housing or medical assistance, applying for a loan, or obtaining immigration status.

The Maryland Catholic Conference advocates for policies that weaken the trafficking economy, support its victims, and increase awareness. The Church’s social teaching forbids activities that lead to human beings being bought and sold like merchandise.  Human trafficking – including both sex trafficking and labor trafficking – violates the dignity of all parties involved, but especially its victims.  The bill has the potential to positively affect many human trafficking victims because it will enable them to take the steps necessary to move their life in a direction of healing and rebuilding.  

Pope Francis has said that “Human trafficking is a crime against humanity. We must unite our efforts to free victims and stop this crime that's become ever more aggressive, that threatens not just individuals, but the foundational values of society, our families, and communities”.

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges a favorable report for SB 869.  Thank you for your consideration.

SB 881: Criminal Law - Human Trafficking and Prostitution Offenses

Position: SUPPORT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of Senate Bill 881.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch) dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.
 
This bill expands prohibitions on human trafficking, establishes the offense of “labor trafficking” and creates separate offenses for behavior similar to those currently prohibited under various human trafficking and prostitution statutes, renames “human trafficking” as “sex trafficking”, adds felony sex trafficking to the definition of a “crime of violence”, and makes corresponding changes to existing statutes to reflect the bill’s alteration of offenses. The bill also creates the offense of “forced marriage”.
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference advocates for policies that weaken the trafficking economy, support its victims, and increase awareness. The Church’s social teaching forbids activities that lead to human beings being bought and sold like merchandise. Human trafficking – including both sex trafficking and labor trafficking – violates the dignity of all parties involved, but especially its victims.  The bill has the potential to positively affect many human and labor trafficking victims by further defining and clarifying sex trafficking and labor trafficking as unique offenses and strengthening the charges associated with these crimes to more accurately reflect the severe and lasting human and societal impact of these offenses. In creating an offense of “forced marriage”, the legislation reflects the Catechism of the Catholic Church which states that the Church holds the exchange of consent between the spouses to be an indispensable element of marriage. If consent is lacking, there is no marriage, and no coercion or grave external fear can substitute for this consent.
 
Pope Francis has said that “Human trafficking is a crime against humanity. We must unite our efforts to free victims and stop this crime that's become ever more aggressive, that threatens not just individuals, but the foundational values of society, our families, and communities”.
 
It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges a favorable report for SB 881.  Thank you for your consideration.

HB 113: Public Safety – Baltimore City Safe Streets Initiatives – Funding

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

As defined in the legislation, A Safe Streets Initiative is a violence prevention or intervention program operated by a community-based organization in a neighborhood that is disproportionately affected by violent crime.  House Bill 113 requires the Governor to include $3.6 million in his budget each year, allocated to Baltimore City for the disbursement of grants to relevant organizations who meet matching fund requirements.  

The Catholic Church has a strong interest in public safety and keeping communities safe.  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states that “[w]e must confront this growing culture of violence with a commitment to life, a vision of hope and a call to action.”  Strict criminal justice laws, including mandatory sentencing and aggressive policing, have proven ineffective in curbing rising violence in Baltimore City and around the state.  A different approach needs to be taken to alleviate the symptoms that cause violence, including poverty, lack of economic opportunity, and inadequate education.  Safe Streets Initiative programs offer an innovative approach to tackling these societal issues, and allow community members to work within themselves to improve their own communities.  Often the communities that are suffering with extreme levels of violence are also lower income areas; shifting the focus from being constantly on the defensive against violence to preventing what might cause the violence to occur in the first place is an important change in also alleviating poverty in these communities.  

The Conference appreciates your consideration and, for these reasons, urges a favorable report on House Bill 113.  

HB 700: Hate Crimes Group Victim

Position: SUPPORT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  We offer this testimony in support of House Bill 700.
 
House Bill 700 would amend our state’s current hate crimes law to clarify that it applies to an act or an attempt to harm a person or group or their property because of the person’s or group’s race, color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, or national origin, or because a person is homeless.  
 
At a time when our society is increasingly marred by incidents of intolerance both locally and nationally, it is critical that our communities take a strong and united stance against such acts.  In response to the increase of such incidents, both the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Bishops of Maryland have created committees to address the sin of racism and to develop concrete action plans to address the issue in our Church and in society.  As Archbishop Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore noted when announcing the creation of a Racism Task Force in Maryland, “The dreadful spectacle of violence and racism displayed in Charlottesville by various white supremacist groups is a shocking reminder of how much work still needs to be done to eradicate the sin of racism in our country, our state, and our local communities.”
 
We believe House Bill 700 strengthens existing law and offers an important signal that threatening to harm a person or group or their property simply because of their identity is inimical to the peace and fraternity that we should all strive for in our diverse society.
 
For these reasons, we urge a favorable report on House Bill 700.
 
ARCHBISHOP LORI ANNOUNCES STATEWIDE TASK FORCE ON RACISM
 
In an effort to better improve race relations and to address the sin of racism that continues to be a divisive force in our country, Archbishop William E. Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore and Chairman of the Maryland Catholic Conference, announced the creation of a statewide task force on racism.  Co-chaired by Bishop Denis J. Madden, auxiliary bishop emeritus and urban vicar of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and Bishop Roy E. Campbell, Jr., auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, the workgroup includes leaders from the state’s Catholic African-American and Latino communities, legislators, historians, scholars and others who will bring a diverse perspective to the important work of the task force.
 
The group held its first meeting in Baltimore on September 25, 2017.
 
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops created a Task Force on Peace and Unity last year in response to heightened racial tensions around the country, including the riots surrounding the death of Freddie Gray here in Maryland and recently announced the creation of an ongoing Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, to which Archbishop Lori has been named a Consultor.  Committee chairman, Bishop George J. Murry, SJ, said the Committee will “listen to the needs of individuals who have suffered under the sin of racism and together find solutions to this epidemic of hate that has plagued our nation for far too long."
 
They also invited local bishops to examine the issue and promote ways of addressing racism in local dioceses.
 
“The dreadful spectacle of violence and racism displayed in Charlottesville by various white supremacist groups is a shocking reminder of how much work still needs to be done to eradicate the sin of racism in our country, our state, and our local communities,” Archbishop Lori said.  “While many good efforts are ongoing within the Catholic Church here in Maryland, we know that we are far from where we need to be in fostering a truly loving, diverse community where all are welcomed and embraced, regardless of the color of their skin, the language they speak, or their country of origin.  
 
“This effort will require the courage to take an honest look at our past, the humility to repent of the ways we have actively caused pain or turned a deaf ear to those who suffer from the evil of racism, and a firm faith in the power of God’s love as we begin the path to reconciliation.  We ask for the prayers of Maryland’s Catholic community and all people of good will as we turn to this work with renewed zeal and urgency.  May St. Peter Claver inspire and bless our coming together as we journey ever closer toward building the kingdom of God.”    
 

HB 748: Criminal Law – Homicide –Unborn Child (Laura and Reid’s Law)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 748.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

HB 748 will expand Maryland law to establish a crime of manslaughter or murder when a fetus is killed before 24 weeks of pregnancy as a result of an attack on a pregnant woman. The leading cause of pregnancy-associated death in Maryland is homicide, the majority of which were committed by current or former intimate partners.  Fetal homicide most commonly occurs during the first three months of pregnancy.

The Catholic Church firmly believes in protecting the well-being and safety of all people from violence, especially from violence in the home. This legislation aims to strengthen protections for pregnant women and their unborn child who are victims of violence.  This support is consistent with Catholic social teaching that reveres the inherent and inviolable dignity of all human life. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has stated: “As the Catholic Church in the United States, we state as clearly and strongly as we can that violence against women, inside or outside the home, is never justified. Violence in any form — ‘physical, sexual, psychological, or verbal’—is sinful.” By allowing charges for fetal homicide to apply to a fetus less than 24-weeks gestation, this legislation will act as a deterrent to future violent crimes against pregnant women and will enable law enforcement to charge offenders for fetal homicides that are now shielded from those charges because of current law.

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges a favorable report for HB 748.  Thank you for your consideration.

SB 532: Higher Education – Financial Aid – In-State Students (The Jill Wrigley Memorial Scholarship Expansion Act)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

Currently, a student is eligible for an annual financial award for higher education, either undergraduate or two year associate, if he or she is a Maryland resident and has financial need.  Senate Bill 532 would expand this eligibility to any student who is otherwise eligible for in-state tuition.

The consequences of this expansion are to include students who are receiving in-state or resident tuition under the Maryland DREAM Act, thereby offering financial assistance to thousands of students who might not otherwise be able to afford higher education.  The DREAM Act already has been successful in making a college education possible for many immigrant Marylanders.  By making a college education more accessible and affordable to Maryland youth, we are able to provide them with greater opportunities –opportunities for higher education, to acquire job skills, and to have a better chance of supporting themselves and their families in the future.

A student’s economic disadvantages should not hinder them from achieving higher education.  Leveling the playing field among those who are driven to pursue higher education is imperative for breaking down future socioeconomic barriers in vulnerable populations such as immigrants and non-citizens.  

The Conference appreciates your consideration and, for these reasons, urges you issue a favorable report on Senate Bill 532.  

SB 546: Higher Education – Tuition Rates – Exemptions

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

Senate Bill 546 changes the circumstances under which some individuals, including undocumented immigrants, will be exempt from paying the out-of-state tuition rate at community colleges and eligible to pay an equivalent rate to the resident tuition rate at a public senior higher education institution.

The original Maryland DREAM Act extended in-state tuition eligibility to Maryland high school graduates who provided proof that they or their parents have been paying income taxes so they could attend Maryland colleges and universities more feasibly. It has been successful in making a college education possible for many immigrant Marylanders. 

Yet, the primary restrictions under the original Maryland DREAM Act have limited the number of Marylanders who can access higher education. The requirement that students must first attend a community college before attending a four-year institution in order to qualify for in-state tuition greatly restricts the choices for undocumented students in their pursuit of postsecondary education. In addition to that, the requirement for students to attend a community college in the jurisdiction where they graduated from high school limits the ability to choose colleges that have degree programs that best suit their needs and educational goals.

The proposed legislation removes the aforementioned restrictions and expands protections to Marylanders who have been provided deferred action relief under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. By making a college education more accessible and affordable to Maryland youth, we are able to provide them with greater opportunities –opportunities for higher education, to acquire job skills, and to have a better chance of supporting themselves and their families in the future.

The Conference appreciates your consideration and, for these reasons, urges you issue a favorable report on Senate Bill 546.  

SB 550: Maryland Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Program – Death of a Designated Beneficiary

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of Senate Bill 550.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.
 
SB 550 authorizes money and assets in an ABLE account to be transferred, on the death of a designated beneficiary, to a certain estate or a certain ABLE account for an eligible individual, unless prohibited by federal law. The bill also prohibits the State, unless required by federal law, from seeking payment from an ABLE account or its proceeds for certain medical assistance benefits paid for the designated beneficiary.

Since this past fall, participants in The Maryland Achieving a Better Life (ABLE) Program have been able to establish and manage accounts in order to promote financial savings to be utilized in support of individuals with disabilities.  Funds saved through the Maryland ABLE Program are designated for the purposes of maintaining health, independence, and quality of life for those eligible for the accounts.  

The Maryland Catholic Conference supports SB 550 because it intersects with the Church’s obligation to care for those with disabilities.  The Church calls for the defense of policies “that enable individuals with disabilities... to achieve the fullest measure of personal development possible”, and foster the creation of a stronger and more integrated support system.  SB 550 will prohibit the State from seeking payment from a Maryland Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account or its proceeds while the deceased participant has a surviving spouse, children, or a disabled son or daughter, or in cases where substantial hardship will result. This legislation will assist families in saving for basic support services and necessities for family members with disabilities.  We are in strong support of enabling persons with disabilities and their families to achieve the fullest measure of personal development possible.
 
It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference urges a favorable report for SB 550.  Thank you for your consideration.

SB 670: Family Law - Marriage - Age Requirements

Position: SUPPORT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving the state of Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  We offer this testimony in support of Senate Bill 670, which would raise the legal age of marriage to age 18.
 
Like other advocates for the bill, we believe this legislation will provide an important means of preventing the exploitation particularly of young women through human trafficking and coercion by older partners and even family members.  In fact, we can think of no circumstance under which the Church would encourage a person under the age of 18 to marry.
 
Preventing the real life situations of abuse and coercion that proponents of this measure have highlighted provides the most compelling reason to raise the legal age of marriage. Additionally, it is important to consider the potential impact the bill can have on preventing two young persons from entering into a legal commitment without the needed maturity to understand the serious and lifelong impact that their decision to marry carries with it.
 
It has been the constant teaching of the Catholic Church that marriage is a “…covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses…”   The Church believes that this “covenant” is not the result of a happenstance meeting or pure chance, but rather, the result of God working in the lives of two people, bringing them together for a divine purpose according to the Almighty’s divine plan for them.  
 
Given the seriousness of the decision to enter into the enterprise of marriage, it would be expected that an extensive period of thought and reflection be undertaken before two people make this decision, in order to consider thoroughly whether the relationship has the factors needed to be successful and long-lived. For any variety of reasons, it simply is not possible for someone lacking in maturity to enter into marriage as the Catholic Church understands marriage. 
 
Further, the teaching of the Church requires that someone about to enter marriage must decide to do so free of undue influences and outside pressures.  Even in the situation of a couple expecting a child, the Church would likely counsel those under the age of 18 to wait until they were older to decide whether to marry, since the pressure of their situation and their lack of maturity would likely cause their marriage consent to be considered defective or invalid.  The younger people are when approaching marriage, the greater the chance that the relationship and marriage will not last, which is demonstrated by the fact that most of the cases that come before the Church’s marriage tribunal for consideration of an annulment are due to of a lack of discretion of judgment when the couple attempted to marry.
 
Nothing in Senate Bill 670 prevents a young couple genuinely involved in a mature, long-lasting relationship from eventually getting married.  Any couple intent on doing so would only have to wait until they were both 18.  On the other hand, Senate Bill 670 is a critically important measure in preventing the tragedy of young women being coerced or exploited through a marriage imposed on them against their will.  It is also an important measure in preventing young people from mistakenly entering into one of the most serious commitments of their lives, only to later suffer the negative consequences that the break up of that marriage would likely have on both the partners and any children born of the marriage.
 
For these reasons, we urge a favorable report on Senate Bill 670.

SB 862: Maryland No-Fault Birth Injury Fund

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

Senate Bill 862 would create a no-fault birth injury fund to provide fair and equitable compensation on a no-fault basis for a limited class of birth-related injuries.  

The Church supports legislation that ensures access to quality, affordable, life-giving health care for all. Access to medical care is considered a basic human right that flows from the dignity of the human person. 

In Maryland, there is a growing concern that recent multimillion-dollar medical malpractice judgments could limit maternity care access for low-income expectant mothers. In fact, the Maryland Hospital Association  noted that Maryland had a total medical malpractice payout amount of $109 million in 2015, making Maryland one of nine states with over $100 million in payouts. Hospitals in Maryland are concerned that these jury awards could result in a significant reduction in maternity health care services because medical decisions could be based more on the fear of a malpractice lawsuit than what is best for the patient. There is evidence to support the fact that such concerns have been realized in other areas of the country as well.  

Fortunately, a precedent exists to combat these growing concerns. The establishment of no-fault birth injury funds in states such as Virginia and Florida show that fair and equitable solutions are available to protect both injured parties and health care providers. Protecting one of Maryland’s most vulnerable populations, low-income mothers and young children, is a worthy endeavor. The Conference supports creating a no-fault birth injury fund that provides, first and foremost, the necessary care of injured parties while also limiting liability costs for health care providers who administer care to Maryland’s most vulnerable populations.         

The Conference appreciates your consideration and urges you to issue a favorable report on Senate Bill 862.  

SB 1060: Nonpublic Elementary and Secondary Schools - Discrimination – Prohibition

Position: OPPOSE

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony on behalf of the families of approximately 50,000 students served by more than 150 PreK-12 Catholic schools in Maryland in OPPOSITION to Senate Bill 1060.  The Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

Over the last couple of decades, the General Assembly has enacted programs to provide at least a modicum of assistance to students attending nonpublic schools.  This legislation is a clear attempt to dismantle those programs and deprive those children, many of them from very low-income families, of those benefits. Senate Bill 1060 would prohibit virtually all nonpublic schools from participating in any of the programs that provide funding for services to nonpublic school students in Maryland.  This bill is detrimental to more than 80,000 of the 120,000 preK-12 nonpublic school students in the state whose schools are eligible for the longstanding Nonpublic Student Textbook Program, and more than 180 schools that participate in the Nonpublic Aging Schools Program.  To even greater detriment, the bill would effectively take away scholarships from over 2,600 FARMs-eligible, low-income, majority minority BOOST scholarship recipients, many of whom for the first time in their lives have been able to access the educational option their families have longed for. 

Senate Bill 1060 would also eliminate religious freedom and conscience protection exemptions afforded to religious organizations in State law that have been in place for decades. Additionally, this bill makes the receipt of state funds by a nonpublic faith-based school, and their students, contingent on adherence to limitations on their autonomy with regard to student enrollment and retention. Each of these limitations would be impossible for most nonpublic schools to comply with due to their overall mission or to a lack of funding to support the services necessary to accommodate students with special needs.   

No other state program in the country that provides assistance to nonpublic school students requires nonpublic schools to comply with requirements such as those included in Senate Bill 1060, particularly ones that would force them to alter their faith-based identity.  Moreover, since 1965, the federal Elementary and Secondary School Act (n/k/a the Every Student Succeeds Act) has provided for the equitable inclusion of nonpublic school students in federal education programs without imposing inappropriate government regulations like those promulgated by Senate Bill 1060. 

For each of the aforementioned reasons, we urge you to report unfavorably on Senate Bill 1060.

HB 160: Statement on the “Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund” Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO)

The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.

The Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges the General Assembly to clarify the language contained in the Maryland Technology Development Corporation budget pertaining to the Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund (MSCRF) to specify that all of the $8.2 million allocated for FY2019 be used for adult stem cell research. We urge the subcommittee to insert budget language that ensures that no General Fund appropriations involve the use of embryonic stem cells for research, which the Church believes is morally objectionable because it destroys nascent life.  Adult stem cell research, on the other hand, uses stem cells from a variety of existing human cells without harming another life.

As stem cell research continues to progress and advance, many leading research institutions and medical centers of excellence have repeatedly reported the equal efficacy of using adult stem cells in their research.  As Maryland continues to strive for ethical and responsible use of taxpayer dollars, amending the budget to include this language would be a tremendous step in achieving that goal.

As the U.S. bishops have stated, the Church "opposes destroying some human lives now, on the pretext that this may possibly help other lives in the future. We must respect life at all times, especially when our goal is to save lives."

We respectfully urge the subcommittee to insert clarifying budget language that ensures use of any MSCRF money from the General Fund is used only for adult stem cell research. 

HB 644: State Income Tax – Subtraction Modification - Elementary and Secondary Education Expenses

Position: OPPOSE

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in OPPOSITION to House Bill 644 on behalf of the families of approximately 50,000 students served by more than 150 PreK-12 Catholic schools in Maryland.  The Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

House Bill 644 would bar parents, grandparents, family members or any other benefactor from state income tax benefits for contributions made toward elementary or secondary education expenses under Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code.  Additionally, tax deductions for distributions taken to pay for a child-beneficiary’s educational expenditures would also be disallowed. 

There are many low and middle-income families who live year-to-year in providing for their children’s education by humbly soliciting assistance from grandparents, family members, and other benefactors.  Current Section 529 benefits encourage and incentivize such assistance and, therefore, those benefits should remain intact in order to aid in educational success and sustainability. 

Moreover, there are hundreds of Catholic and other nonpublic schools in the state, educating just under 100,000 K-12 students.  Those families educate in those schools for a whole host of reasons, each of which can be summarily categorized into one:  their particular school curriculum or environment is the best fit for their children’s learning needs.  Nonetheless, the majority of those families sacrifice, or even struggle, to ensure that their students get the education best tailored to their needs because there are limited resources available.  Catholic schools strive to great extent year in and year out to make their schools as accessible and affordable as possible for their students.  Despite millions of dollars in subsidized assistance, they only are able to meet around 10% of the stated need. 

The capability to utilize a Section 529 account, which offers a similar tax treatment mechanism to a ROTH IRA investment account, for elementary and secondary education expenses, could provide a crucial benefit to tens of thousands of Maryland families.  In recent years, families have been advocating for assistance to help access the educational options their children need.  This benefit stands to help and we thus implore this legislative body to leave the existing benefits intact.     

It is for the compelling reasons above that we respectfully urge this committee to report unfavorably on House Bill 644.

HB 671: Sales and Use Tax - Tax-Free Period for Back-to-School Shopping - School Supplies

Position: SUPPORT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 671.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.
 
We offer our support for House Bill 671, which would expand current law to include all school supplies to the items that are currently exempt during the State’s annual sales tax-free period for back-to-school shopping.  This tax-free time period runs from the second Sunday in August through the following Saturday.
 
Currently, sales tax exemptions during the state’s annual back-to-school shopping week include items of clothing under $100 and backpacks under $40.  As where school supplies are one of the most integral considerations in a student’s preparedness, each student should be encouraged to enter the school year with a full complement of the items necessary for success.  One might argue that a book bag full of the proper school supplies is far paramount to having a new book bag itself, an item that is already sales tax-exempt during back-to-school shopping week.  
 
Particularly in the lowest-income schools and districts, if parents and students were afforded increased buying power due to the money saved from a temporary sales tax reprieve, students who traditionally face challenges to being materially prepared to learn will have an increased chance of success.   
 
Additionally, as Maryland’s Catholic schools educate tens of thousands of lower and middle-income families every year, the Maryland Catholic Conference offers its support for House Bill 671 as a means of assisting those families.  We thus encourage your support and a favorable report for House Bill 671.

HB 782: Maryland Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Program – Death of a Designated Beneficiary

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 782.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.
 
HB 782 authorizes money and assets in an ABLE account to be transferred, on the death of a designated beneficiary, to a certain estate or a certain ABLE account for an eligible individual, unless prohibited by federal law. The bill also prohibits the State, unless required by federal law, from seeking payment from an ABLE account or its proceeds for certain medical assistance benefits paid for the designated beneficiary.

Since this past fall, participants in The Maryland Achieving a Better Life (ABLE) Program have been able to establish and manage accounts in order to promote financial savings to be utilized in support of individuals with disabilities.  Funds saved through the Maryland ABLE Program are designated for the purposes of maintaining health, independence, and quality of life for those eligible for the accounts.  

The Maryland Catholic Conference supports HB 782 because it intersects with the Church’s obligation to care for those with disabilities.  The Church calls for the defense of policies “that enable individuals with disabilities... to achieve the fullest measure of personal development possible”, and foster the creation of a stronger and more integrated support system.  HB 782 will prohibit the State from seeking payment from a Maryland Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account or its proceeds while the deceased participant has a surviving spouse, children, or a disabled son or daughter, or in cases where substantial hardship will result. This legislation will assist families in saving for basic support services and necessities for family members with disabilities.  We are in strong support of enabling persons with disabilities and their families to achieve the fullest measure of personal development possible.
 
It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference urges a favorable report for HB 782.  Thank you for your consideration.

SB 185: Statement on the “Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund” Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO)

The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.

The Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges the General Assembly to clarify the language contained in the Maryland Technology Development Corporation budget pertaining to the Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund (MSCRF) to specify that all of the $8.2 million allocated for FY2019 be used for adult stem cell research. We urge the subcommittee to insert budget language that ensures that no General Fund appropriations involve the use of embryonic stem cells for research, which the Church believes is morally objectionable because it destroys nascent life.  Adult stem cell research, on the other hand, uses stem cells from a variety of existing human cells without harming another life.

As stem cell research continues to progress and advance, many leading research institutions and medical centers of excellence have repeatedly reported the equal efficacy of using adult stem cells in their research.  As Maryland continues to strive for ethical and responsible use of taxpayer dollars, amending the budget to include this language would be a tremendous step in achieving that goal.

As the U.S. bishops have stated, the Church "opposes destroying some human lives now, on the pretext that this may possibly help other lives in the future. We must respect life at all times, especially when our goal is to save lives."

We respectfully urge the subcommittee to insert clarifying budget language that ensures use of any MSCRF money from the General Fund is used only for adult stem cell research. 

SB 1062: Weapon Crimes – Detachable Magazines and Regulated Firearms – Possession

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

Senate Bill 1062 prohibits the possession of a detachable magazine with the capacity of more than ten rounds of ammunition and expands the range of crimes for which a person who is disqualified from possessing a regulated firearm is subject to a mandatory minimum sentence or penalty, including conspiracy to commit a crime of violence, illegal possession of a handgun, and subsequent violations of firearm possession regulations. 

The Catholic Church has a strong interest in public safety and keeping communities safe.  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states that “[w]e must confront this growing culture of violence with a commitment to life, a vision of hope and a call to action.”  To that point, the Conference supports taking further action to alleviate the symptoms that cause violence, including poverty, lack of economic opportunity, and inadequate education.  Often the communities that are suffering with extreme levels of violence are also lower income areas; shifting the focus from being constantly on the defensive against violence to preventing what might cause the violence to occur in the first place is an important change in also alleviating poverty in these communities.  However and in addition, current criminal justice laws have proven ineffective in curbing rising violence in Baltimore City and around the state.  As such, the Conference supports legislation that restricts access to lethal weapons that endanger entire communities.  When community members are not in fear of their lives, they can live up to their God-given potential and enrich the world around them.  

The Conference appreciates your consideration and, for these reasons, urges a favorable report on Senate Bill 1062.  
 

HB 420: Higher Education – Financial Aid – In-State Students (The Jill Wrigley Memorial Scholarship Expansion Act)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

Currently, a student is eligible for an annual financial award for higher education, either undergraduate or two year associate, if he or she is a Maryland resident and has financial need.  House Bill 420 would expand this eligibility to any student who is otherwise eligible for in-state tuition.

The consequences of this expansion are to include students who are receiving in-state or resident tuition under the Maryland DREAM Act, thereby offering financial assistance to thousands of students who might not otherwise be able to afford higher education.  The DREAM Act already has been successful in making a college education possible for many immigrant Marylanders.  By making a college education more accessible and affordable to Maryland youth, we are able to provide them with greater opportunities –opportunities for higher education, to acquire job skills, and to have a better chance of supporting themselves and their families in the future.

A student’s economic disadvantages should not hinder them from achieving higher education.  Leveling the playing field among those who are driven to pursue higher education is imperative for breaking down future socioeconomic barriers in vulnerable populations such as immigrants and non-citizens.  

The Conference appreciates your consideration and, for these reasons, urges you issue a favorable report on House Bill 420.  

HB 1244: Workgroup on Establishing an Independent School Board for the Juvenile Services Education System

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 1244.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

House bill 1244 would allow for the formation of a workgroup to consider whether the state should form an independent school board for youth housed in Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) facilities. The bill would also authorize the workgroup to examine shortcomings in the educational offerings to youth held in DJS facilities, administered through the Juvenile Services Education System (JSES).

In its pastoral statement “Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice” (USCCB, 2000) , the United States conference of Catholic Bishops cited the “absence of educational opportunities” among considerations “contributing to a high rate of recidivism”. The USCCB also cited “education” as one of the key “necessities that enable inmates to live in dignity”. 

The Maryland Catholic Conference has routinely taken positions against juveniles being held in adult jails due to the challenges associated with protecting such a young and vulnerable population. Some measures have been taken to strengthen protections for detained youth in recent years, signaling a movement in the right direction.  In the same vein, our state must be vigilant about ignoring the vulnerability of youth who are held in juvenile facilities. Several questions have arisen in recent years regarding the sufficiency and efficacy of education programs in our juvenile facilities. House bill 1244 will examine the various considerations surrounding educational programs provided by MSDE in DJS facilities and it is our hope that any shortcomings will be addressed, even if that means forming an independent school board. 

The Church maintains that systems of incarceration should be centered around restorative justice. With regard to youthful offenders, our state’s duty to ensure the same is significantly amplified. When youth are denied their constitutionally guaranteed right to an education, their chances to break free from their often challenging circumstances and live productive, fruitful adulthoods are greatly diminished.  For these reasons, we urge a favorable report on HB 1244.

SB 647: Earned Income Tax Credit – Individuals Without Qualifying Children – Expansion

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

Senate Bill 647 changes the percentage of the federal earned income credit used for determining the amount that specified individuals may claim as a refund under the Maryland earned income credit under specified circumstances. The bill also alters the calculation of the Maryland earned income tax credit to allow specified individuals without qualifying children to claim an increased credit and would be applicable to taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017.

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a successful anti-poverty tool that provides a meaningful boost to low-income workers and families, enabling them to make necessary purchases, such as making a major home repair, and take care of basic needs. A federal EITC was enacted in the mid-1970s to provide a tax credit to low-income working families to offset taxes and to reward work. The Conference was a lead advocate for having a state EITC when Maryland enacted it in 1987, setting it at 50 percent of the federal credit. The proposed legislation would expand the EITC for single workers without dependents by broadening the age eligibility to include ages 18 through 24, increasing the income limit to $23,540, and matching 100% of the federal EITC. While providing a direct benefit to more Marylanders, the EITC is a boost to local economies since every $1 that is invested in the EITC generates $1.24 for the economy.

Pope Francis said, 
Without a solution to the problems of the poor, we will not solve the problems of the world. We need projects, mechanisms and processes to implement better distribution of resources, from the creation of new jobs to the integral promotion of those who are excluded.

The EITC is a successful mechanism that improves the distribution of resources, and this expansion of the EITC is a solution that includes workers who are currently excluded from this credit. 

The Conference appreciates your consideration and urges a favorable report on Senate Bill 647.  

SB 701: Commercial Driver’s Licenses – Recognition, Prevention, and Reporting of Human Trafficking

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of Senate Bill 701.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch) dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington, D.C. and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

SB 701 requires the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) to include questions on human trafficking, recognition, prevention, and effective reporting as part of the commercial driver’s license (CDL) knowledge test. In addition, CDL training schools must include education and training on the issue of human trafficking and the MVA must update the Commercial Driver’s License Manual with the appropriate information and provide an applicant renewing a CDL with the updated content.

The Maryland Catholic Conference supports SB 701 because it educates those working in the commercial transportation industry on trafficking and aids law enforcement in their efforts to identify and end human trafficking.  The Church’s social teaching forbids activities that lead to human beings being bought and sold like merchandise.  Human trafficking – including both sex trafficking and labor trafficking – violates the dignity of all parties involved, but especially its victims.  The bill has the potential to positively affect many human trafficking victims because it requires those obtaining and renewing a CDL to be educated on identifying and reporting suspected human trafficking in the course of their professional duties. The Maryland Catholic Conference advocates for policies that weaken the trafficking economy, support its victims, and increase awareness.

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges a favorable report for SB 701.  Thank you for your consideration.

HB 1066: Homeowner Associations - Deletion of Ownership Restrictions Based on Race, Religious Belief, or National Origin

Position: SUPPORT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  We offer this testimony in support of House Bill 1066.
 
House Bill 1066 authorizes a homeowner’s association to remove unlawfully restrictive covenants that restrict property ownership on the basis of race, religious belief, or national origin if a majority of the governing body of the association agrees to the deletion.  Such covenants, while no longer enforceable, represent a painful and offensive reminder of past racist practices and policies, and it is important to eradicate them whenever possible.  
 
At a time when our society is increasingly marred by incidents of intolerance both locally and nationally, it is critical that our communities take a strong and united stance against such acts.  In response to the increase of such incidents, both the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Bishops of Maryland have created committees to address the sin of racism and to develop concrete action plans to address the issue in our Church and in society. 
 
As Archbishop Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore noted in the pastoral letter he released on Ash Wednesday, The Enduring Power of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Principles of Nonviolence, “Weighing heavily on our minds and hearts is the sin of racism that continues, sometimes overtly but often subtly, to insinuate itself in our relationships, institutions and communities of faith, including our own. Indeed, the sin of racism has tarnished the soul of our society for so long that racist attitudes can be deeply embedded in our subconscious, such that we may hardly know they are there. We must bring to light such attitudes and overcome them.’
 
House Bill 1066 is a step toward that goal, and we urge a favorable report.

HB 1267: Criminal Procedure - Motion to Vacate Judgment - Human Trafficking

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 1267.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch) dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

This bill authorizes a person convicted of a civil offense, or a criminal offense other than a crime of violence, to file a motion to vacate the judgment in the case in which the conviction was entered if the person’s participation in the offense was a direct result of having been a victim of human trafficking.

Human trafficking victims, especially sex trafficking, are arrested and convicted for acts over which they had no choice, and are rarely identified as such at the time of their arrest or at any time during the judicial process. Quite often, convictions can prevent trafficking victims from gainful employment, receiving or furthering their education, receiving housing or medical assistance, applying for a loan, or obtaining immigration status.

The Maryland Catholic Conference advocates for policies that weaken the trafficking economy, support its victims, and increase awareness. The Church’s social teaching forbids activities that lead to human beings being bought and sold like merchandise.  Human trafficking – including both sex trafficking and labor trafficking – violates the dignity of all parties involved, but especially its victims.  The bill has the potential to positively affect many human trafficking victims because it will enable them to take the steps necessary to move their life in a direction of healing and rebuilding.  

Pope Francis has said that “Human trafficking is a crime against humanity. We must unite our efforts to free victims and stop this crime that's become ever more aggressive, that threatens not just individuals, but the foundational values of society, our families, and communities”.

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges a favorable report for HB 1267.  Thank you for your consideration.

HB 1615: Human Services – Temporary Disability Assistance Program

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

House Bill 1615 would codify the existing Temporary Disability Assistance Program (TDAP) at a percentage of Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA), eventually reaching equality in the maximum monthly allowable assistance between the two programs.  It currently only exists as an agency regulation, which subjects it to budgetary fluctuations and political whims. 

The Church teaches that the state has a moral obligation to have a budget that reflects a preferential care and love for the poor and vulnerable. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that “it is the proper function of authority to arbitrate, in the name of the common good, between various particular interests; but it should make accessible to each what is needed to lead a truly human life: food, clothing, health, work, education and culture” (no. 1908).

The Conference frequently advocates for the protection of social safety net programs included in the state budget to promote the common good in Maryland.  Given the budget challenges for this year and the coming years, it is especially important to evaluate how current funding is or is not meeting the needs of all programs and how they grow in its capacity to assist Marylanders. Without adequate funding for programs and grants TDAP, vulnerable Marylanders will face additional obstacles to self-sufficiency due to their inability to meet their basic needs.  Codifying TDAP will allow the program to be stabilized and grow proportional to the needs of its recipients.  

For these reasons, the Conference appreciates your consideration and urges a favorable report on House Bill 1615. 

SB 187: Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act of 2018

Position: OPPOSE

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

Senate Bill 187 is the annual version of the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act of 2018, commonly known as the BRFA.  While the Conference does not oppose the entirety of the BRFA, it does stand in firm opposition to Section 16-201.3(d)(1) of the Health-General Article, specifically regarding the reduction of provider rates for behavioral health.  The 2017 Heroin and Opioid Prevention Effort (HOPE) and Treatment Act, required, among other things, a funding rate increase for behavioral health providers of 3.5%.  However, Governor Hogan included only a 2% rate increase in his fiscal year 2019 budget.  

The Catholic Church supports legislation that ensures access to quality, affordable, and life-giving health care for all.  Behavioral health is integral to the health of the entire person, and services that treat mental health, somatic illnesses, and substance use disorders must have adequate funding.  An increasing number of Marylanders are in need of healing and as such, every effort must be made to make services available to all those who are seeking behavioral health care.  The Conference will support expanding access to health care options for all who need it, regardless of status, as every person has a basic right to adequate health care arising from the Church’s teaching on the sanctity and dignity of human life.  

More than one million Marylanders need behavioral healthcare services, including for the treatment of mental health, substance use disorders, and other somatic illnesses.  Untreated behavioral health needs can lead to a host of other social problems, including crime, violence, and homelessness.  The opioid crisis has dramatically intensified the need for behavioral health services in Maryland, and it has affected all jurisdictions in the state, such as difficulties in the delivery of services in rural areas and lack of available providers and beds in suburban and urban settings.  Behavioral healthcare funding is needed to protect not only the most vulnerable among us, but also those who may be marginalized by language barriers, lack of health insurance, or those affected by the rising opioid-related crisis.  

For these reasons, the Conference appreciates your consideration and urges an unfavorable report on Senate Bill 187.  

SB 657: Workgroup on Establishing an Independent School Board for the Juvenile Services Education System

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of Senate Bill 657.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

Senate Bill 657 would allow for the formation of a workgroup to consider whether the state should form an independent school board for youth housed in Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) facilities. The bill would also authorize the workgroup to examine shortcomings in the educational offerings to youth held in DJS facilities, administered through the Juvenile Services Education System (JSES).

In its pastoral statement “Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice” (USCCB, 2000), the United States conference of Catholic Bishops cited the “absence of educational opportunities” among considerations “contributing to a high rate of recidivism”. The USCCB also cited “education” as one of the key “necessities that enable inmates to live in dignity”. 

The Maryland Catholic Conference has routinely taken positions against juveniles being held in adult jails due to the challenges associated with protecting such a young and vulnerable population. Some measures have been taken to strengthen protections for detained youth in recent years, signaling a movement in the right direction.  In the same vein, our state must be vigilant about ignoring the vulnerability of youth who are held in juvenile facilities. Several questions have arisen in recent years regarding the sufficiency and efficacy of education programs in our juvenile facilities. Senate Bill 657 will examine the various considerations surrounding educational programs provided by MSDE in DJS facilities and it is our hope that any shortcomings will be addressed, even if that means forming an independent school board. 

The Church maintains that systems of incarceration should be centered around restorative justice. With regard to youthful offenders, our state’s duty to ensure the same is significantly amplified. When youth are denied their constitutionally guaranteed right to an education, their chances to break free from their often challenging circumstances and live productive, fruitful adulthoods are greatly diminished.  For these reasons, we urge a favorable report on SB 657.

SB 707: Criminal Law – Firearm Crimes – Rapid Fire Trigger Activator

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

Senate Bill 707 bans a rapid fire trigger activator, commonly referred to as a “bump stock,” in the state of Maryland.  Practically, this means that a person cannot transport, sell, purchase, manufacture, or transfer a bump stock in and throughout Maryland.  The bill further prohibits the use of a bump stock in the commission of a felony or crime of violence.

The Catholic Church has a strong interest in public safety and keeping communities safe.  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states in response to rising violence that “[w]e have an obligation to respond.  Violence – in our homes, our schools and streets, our nation and world – is destroying the lives, dignity and hopes of millions of our sisters and brothers.” To that point, the Church supports legislation that controls the sale and use of and strengthens regulations on dangerous firearms, and other such legislation that makes guns safer.  

In practice, the Conference supports legislation that restricts access to lethal weapons that endanger entire communities.  When community members are not in fear of their lives, they can live up to their God-given potential and enrich the world around them.  Every person has a right to life, and the Conference will continue to work to combat violence and promote a culture of peace.  Banning dangerous and lethal weapon additions such as bump stocks is a manageable and efficient way to begin to curb the rising culture of violence.  Recent events in the U.S. have made bump stocks a primary target of gun control efforts, and the Conference earnestly supports the banning of these devices.  

The Conference appreciates your consideration and, for these reasons, urges you to give a favorable report on Senate Bill 707.  

SB 774: Maryland Medical Assistance Program – Family Planning Services

Position: OPPOSE

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in OPPOSITION to Senate Bill 774.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch) dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

SB 774 requires the Maryland Department of Health (MDH) to apply for a State Plan Amendment to expand the Medicaid Family Planning Waiver Program. Medicaid and the Maryland Children’s Health Program (MCHP) must provide coverage for a single dispensing to an enrollee of a 12-month supply of prescription contraceptives. The State Plan Amendment must (1) provide family planning services to men and women with incomes at or below 250% of federal poverty guidelines (FPG); (2) not impose age limitations on individuals who are able to receive family planning services; (3) establish a presumptive eligibility process for enrollment in the Family Planning Program; and (4) exempt the program from federal coordination of benefits requirements, if authorized under federal law.

While the intent of this legislation is apparently to perpetuate existing practice, the Church has historically opposed government-funded programs that provide contraception to minors, and we remain opposed.  At a minimum, we believe the State Plan Amendment should contain a provision explicitly mandating that the program include abstinence-based instruction, using methods that are proven effective through evidence-based research.
We believe also that the State Plan Amendment should include an explicit requirement that, unless a domestic situation warrants otherwise, parents or guardians must be notified and give permission for the provision of contraception to minor children in their care.

Because of the overall goal of the bill, and its omission of the aforementioned provisions, we respectfully urge an unfavorable report on SB 774. Thank you for your consideration.

SB 860: Public Safety – Regulated Firearms – Transfer

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

Senate Bill 860 defines the term “transfer” as it relates to criminal law and firearms, aiming to close a loophole in Maryland law that allows a person to call an illegal transfer of a firearm between two parties a loan, which until this legislation is not illegal.

The Catholic Church has a strong interest in public safety and keeping communities safe.  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states in response to rising violence that “[w]e have an obligation to respond.  Violence – in our homes, our schools and streets, our nation and world – is destroying the lives, dignity and hopes of millions of our sisters and brothers.” To that point, the Church supports legislation that controls the sale and use of and strengthens regulations on dangerous firearms, and other such legislation that makes guns safer.  The Church also supports rational gun control based on the principle that all human life is sacred.  As Catholics, we support this legislation consistent with our belief in the sacredness of all human life as provided for in the Gospel of Jesus; who “came that they may have life and have it to the full.”  (John 10:10).  

Innocent and law abiding citizens are often the victims of crimes involving firearms and handguns in particular.  The Conference acknowledges that gun control alone will not eliminate gun violence.  However, a significant amount of these instances can be decreased if the availability and accessibility to such firearms are reduced.  In practice, the Conference supports legislation that restricts access to lethal weapons that endanger entire communities.  When community members are not in fear of their lives, they can live up to their God-given potential and enrich the world around them.  Every person has a right to life, and the Conference will continue to work to combat violence and promote a culture of peace. 

The Conference appreciates your consideration and, for these reasons, urges you to give a favorable report on Senate Bill 860.  

HB 856: Earned Income Tax Credit – Individuals Without Qualifying Children – Expansion

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

House Bill 856 changes the percentage of the federal earned income credit used for determining the amount that specified individuals may claim as a refund under the Maryland earned income credit under specified circumstances. The bill also alters the calculation of the Maryland earned income tax credit to allow specified individuals without qualifying children to claim an increased credit and would be applicable to taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017.

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a successful anti-poverty tool that provides a meaningful boost to low-income workers and families, enabling them to make necessary purchases, such as making a major home repair, and take care of basic needs. A federal EITC was enacted in the mid-1970s to provide a tax credit to low-income working families to offset taxes and to reward work. The Conference was a lead advocate for having a state EITC when Maryland enacted it in 1987, setting it at 50 percent of the federal credit. The proposed legislation would expand the EITC for single workers without dependents by broadening the age eligibility to include ages 18 through 24, increasing the income limit to $23,540, and matching 100% of the federal EITC. While providing a direct benefit to more Marylanders, the EITC is a boost to local economies since every $1 that is invested in the EITC generates $1.24 for the economy.

Pope Francis said, Without a solution to the problems of the poor, we will not solve the problems of the world. We need projects, mechanisms and processes to implement better distribution of resources, from the creation of new jobs to the integral promotion of those who are excluded.

The EITC is a successful mechanism that improves the distribution of resources, and this expansion of the EITC is a solution that includes workers who are currently excluded from this credit. 

The Conference appreciates your consideration and urges a favorable report on House Bill 856.  

HB 888: Criminal Law – Firearm Crimes – Rapid Fire Trigger Activator

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

House Bill 888 bans a rapid fire trigger activator, commonly referred to as a “bump stock,” in the state of Maryland.  Practically, this means that a person cannot transport, sell, purchase, manufacture, or transfer a bump stock in and throughout Maryland.  The bill further prohibits the use of a bump stock in the commission of a felony or crime of violence.

The Catholic Church has a strong interest in public safety and keeping communities safe.  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states in response to rising violence that “[w]e have an obligation to respond.  Violence – in our homes, our schools and streets, our nation and world – is destroying the lives, dignity and hopes of millions of our sisters and brothers.” To that point, the Church supports legislation that controls the sale and use of and strengthens regulations on dangerous firearms, and other such legislation that makes guns safer.  

In practice, the Conference supports legislation that restricts access to lethal weapons that endanger entire communities.  When community members are not in fear of their lives, they can live up to their God-given potential and enrich the world around them.  Every person has a right to life, and the Conference will continue to work to combat violence and promote a culture of peace.  Banning dangerous and lethal weapon additions such as bump stocks is a manageable and efficient way to begin to curb the rising culture of violence.  Recent events in the U.S. have made bump stocks a primary target of gun control efforts, and the Conference earnestly supports the banning of these devices.  

The Conference appreciates your consideration and, for these reasons, urges you to give a favorable report on House Bill 888.  

SB 912: Maryland Prenatal and Infant Care Coordination Services Grant Program (Thrive by Three Fund)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

Senate Bill 912 establishes the Maryland Prenatal and Infant Care Coordination Services Grant, tasked with providing grant money to counties and municipalities to use in the assistance of low-income pregnant and postpartum women and children from birth to age three.   

The Catholic Church has a strong interest in eliminating poverty and providing supports for women as they move through pregnancy and raise young children.  Mothers are the foundations of families when they bring life into this world.  Low-income mothers and families who face the struggles of poverty are particularly vulnerable, and the Church has a priority in protecting women in this position.

Providing funding for services that assist low-income women and young children who are likely to be more vulnerable should be an important priority for state and local governments.  Low-income women who might not otherwise be able to afford pre- and post-natal care could potentially face adverse health effects, and raising an infant and young child after results in compounding issues.  Looking into the future, those children may face difficulties as they enter their school years and beyond, in addition to any difficulties they already may be up against growing up in a low-income environment.  The Conference supports legislation such as this that provides any funding aimed to prevent hardships for low-income mothers and young children. 

The Conference appreciates your consideration and, for these reasons, urges a favorable report on Senate Bill 912.  

HB 1038: Health Insurance - Health Benefit Plans - Special Enrollment Period for Pregnancy

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 1038.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch) dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

HB 1038 requires small employer and individual health benefit plans to provide a special enrollment period during which a woman who becomes pregnant may enroll in a health benefit plan and establishes the effective dates of coverage. A pregnant woman must be allowed to enroll at any time after commencement of the pregnancy, and the special enrollment period must remain open for the duration of the pregnancy. 

Access to quality obstetric services are essential to maternal and fetal health during and after pregnancy.  Health care for these populations provides a foundation for healthy families by ensuring that women have safe pregnancies and deliveries, and giving their children the best possible health outcomes after birth.  Requiring health plans and carriers to provide a special enrollment period for women who become pregnant will help to ensure that pregnant women and their children receive quality obstetric and pediatric care.  In the interest of supporting access to healthcare for women and their families, the Church supports HB 1038.

The Maryland Catholic Conference supports HB 1038 because it aligns with the Church’s advocacy for quality, accessible healthcare.  Church teaching informs us that “[t]he first right of the human person, the right to life, entails a right to the means for the proper development of life, such as adequate health care.”

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges a favorable report for HB 1038.  Thank you for your consideration.

HB 1494: Social Services – Safe Harbor Child Trafficking Victim Service Pilot Program

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 1494.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch) dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

HB 1494 establishes, as the result of recommendations made by the Workgroup to Study Safe Harbor Policy for Youth Victims of Human Trafficking, a Safe Harbor Child Trafficking Victim Service Pilot Program, which must be implemented in the local departments of social services in Baltimore and Washington Counties. The pilot program’s purpose is to address the specialized needs of children who are victims of sex trafficking by linking victims to necessary support services through a community-based agency appointed as the Regional Child Trafficking Advocate.

The services that will be offered by the appointed advocate in each County involved with the pilot program, including complete victim assessments, safety planning, crisis intervention, case management services, and advocating on behalf of the child are all much-needed local resources in the effort to combat and eradicate human trafficking from our communities and our state. The work of the pilot programs to establish outreach services to sex-trafficked children in the community and provide educational training on child sex trafficking to regional stakeholders and human services professionals will lay a solid foundation for statewide efforts to abolish this heinous exploitation of children.

The Maryland Catholic Conference advocates for policies that weaken the trafficking economy, support its victims, and increase awareness. Pope Francis has strenuously called on society to make every effort to eradicate sex trafficking, which he has called a “shameful and intolerable crime.”  Moreover, he has urged government officials to “combat this scourge with firmness, giving voice to our younger brothers and sisters who have been wounded in their dignity, and constitutes a true crime against humanity.”

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges a favorable report for HB 1494.  Thank you for your consideration.

HB 1524: Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council

Position: SUPPORT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 1524.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.
 
House Bill 1524 would authorize the creation of a “Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council”.  The council would be charged with studying aspects of Maryland’s juvenile justice system, many aimed at restoration, such as education, support services and recidivism prevention.  The Council would also be charged with reviewing best practices from other states.    
 
In 2015, the General Assembly undertook a monumental bipartisan effort to establish the “Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council”, which reviewed of numerous aspects of Maryland’s adult criminal justice system.  That effort led to the passage of the seminal “Justice Reinvestment Act” the following year, supported by the Conference.  On the heels of such a successful, bipartisan effort, one might ask:  if Maryland is willing to undertake a sweeping introspection into its adult criminal justice system, why not do the same with our youth justice system?    
 
In the pastoral statement "Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice” (2000), the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated, “We call upon government to redirect the vast amount of public resources away from building more and more prisons and toward better and more effective programs aimed at crime prevention, rehabilitation, education efforts, substance abuse treatment, and programs of probation, parole and reintegration.”  Additionally, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has further stated that “society must never respond to children who have committed crimes as though they are somehow equal to adults fully formed in conscience and fully aware of their actions.”  Moreover, it is well-settled, in many secular, judicial and faith-based circles, that holding youth to the same standards of accountability as a fully-formed adult is plainly unjust.  In Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), the United States Supreme Court specifically noted that youthful offenders possessed “diminished capacity” and the inability to fully appreciate the risks and consequences of their actions.  
 
In recent years, the MCC has supported various juvenile justice reform proposals.  Whether it was increased educational services for incarcerated youths, limitations automatically charging youth as adults, eradicating without parole for juvenile offenders, or ensuring that youth are not housed with adult inmates, all of these efforts were grounded in Church teaching.  The Church thus remains a strong advocate for restorative justice, particularly within the juvenile system.  We therefore urge a favorable report on House Bill 1524, thus authorizing a much-needed review of Maryland’s juvenile justice system.  

HB 1550: Juvenile Law - Juvenile Court Jurisdiction

Position: SUPPORT
   
The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 1550.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.
 
House Bill 1550 would end the automatic charging of a child of at least fourteen years of age as adults when they are: a.) charged as an accomplice or accessory to b.) an offense that would be punishable by life imprisonment if committed by an adult.  The bill would also end the automatic charging of youth of at least sixteen years of age as adults for a number of other offenses, but only when charged as an accomplice or accessory to the offense.   
 
In recent legislative sessions, several proposals to limit the automatic charging of youth as adults have been brought before the General Assembly.  This bill is a much smaller step, but a step in the right direction nonetheless.  It is a fundamentally just step toward refocusing our juvenile justice system from a “waiver-down” system to a “waiver-up” system, wherein juvenile court judges would retain the discretion to waive a case upward to the adult court system upon petition by the State’s Attorney.
 
It is well-settled, in many secular, judicial and faith-based circles, that holding youth to the same standards of accountability as a fully-formed adult is plainly unjust.  In Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), the United States Supreme Court specifically noted that youthful offenders possessed “diminished capacity” and the inability to fully appreciate the risks and consequences of their actions, in considering whether youth should be treated the same as adults jurisprudentially.  Additionally, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has further stated that “society must never respond to children who have committed crimes as though they are somehow equal to adults fully formed in conscience and fully aware of their actions.”  (Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice, USCCB, 2000)  
 
These inherent truths regarding youth should be carefully considered when assessing Maryland’s current automatic-charging law, which presumes that youth should be considered to have the same capacity as an adult.  This presumption can often leave a lasting effect, severely limiting a child’s ceiling for success for rest of their lives.  
 
House Bill 1550 is a fundamentally fair safeguard for youth who do not act as principal offenders, and are often victims of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  As a strong advocate for restorative justice, particularly within the juvenile system, we ask this body to recognize children as vulnerable in their inherent stage of predevelopment, at least in the limited circumstances provided for in this bill, and issue a favorable report on House Bill 471.  
 

HB 1565: Nonpublic Elementary and Secondary Schools - Discrimination – Prohibition

Position: OPPOSE

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony on behalf of the families of approximately 50,000 students served by more than 150 PreK-12 Catholic schools in Maryland in OPPOSITION to House Bill 1565.  The Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

Over the last couple of decades, the General Assembly has enacted programs to provide at least a modicum of assistance to students attending nonpublic schools.  This legislation is a clear attempt to dismantle those programs and deprive those children, many of them from very low-income families, of those benefits. House Bill 1565 would prohibit virtually all nonpublic schools from participating in any of the programs that provide funding for services to nonpublic school students in Maryland.  This bill is detrimental to more than 80,000 of the 120,000 preK-12 nonpublic school students in the state whose schools are eligible for the longstanding Nonpublic Student Textbook Program, and more than 180 schools that participate in the Nonpublic Aging Schools Program.  To even greater detriment, the bill would effectively take away scholarships from over 2,600 FARMs-eligible, low-income, majority minority BOOST scholarship recipients, many of whom for the first time in their lives have been able to access the educational option their families have longed for. 

House Bill 1565 would also eliminate religious freedom and conscience protection exemptions afforded to religious organizations in State law that have been in place for decades. Additionally, this bill makes the receipt of state funds by a nonpublic faith-based school, and their students, contingent on adherence to limitations on their autonomy with regard to student enrollment and retention. Each of these limitations would be impossible for most nonpublic schools to comply with due to their overall mission or to a lack of funding to support the services necessary to accommodate students with special needs.   

No other state program in the country that provides assistance to nonpublic school students requires nonpublic schools to comply with requirements such as those included in House Bill 1565, particularly ones that would force them to alter their faith-based identity.  Moreover, since 1965, the federal Elementary and Secondary School Act (n/k/a the Every Student Succeeds Act) has provided for the equitable inclusion of nonpublic school students in federal education programs without imposing inappropriate government regulations like those promulgated by House Bill 1565. 

For each of the aforementioned reasons, we urge you to report unfavorably on House Bill 1565.

HB 1607: Education – Juvenile Services Education Programs – Management and Operation

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 1607.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

House Bill 1607 would create a pilot program for the operation of juvenile services education programs by the county board of education for the county in which the facility is located.  The pilot program provisions would ensure that youth housed in Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) facilities were provided adequate educational programs, commensurate with other students in the county.  It would also ensure proper and sufficient staffing of teachers and other personnel, which is a common shortfall of the current dynamic of education programs at DJS facilities.  

In its pastoral statement “Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice” (USCCB, 2000), the United States conference of Catholic Bishops cited the “absence of educational opportunities” among considerations “contributing to a high rate of recidivism”. The USCCB also cited “education” as one of the key “necessities that enable inmates to live in dignity”. 

The Maryland Catholic Conference has routinely taken positions against juveniles being held in adult jails due to the challenges associated with protecting such a young and vulnerable population. Some measures have been taken to strengthen protections for detained youth in recent years, signaling a movement in the right direction.  In the same vein, our state must be vigilant about ignoring the vulnerability of youth who are held in juvenile facilities. Several questions have arisen in recent years regarding the sufficiency and efficacy of education programs in our juvenile facilities. House Bill 1607 provides an innovative idea for addressing shortcomings in our juvenile education system through a different governance model.  

The Church maintains that systems of incarceration should be centered around restorative justice. With regard to youthful offenders, our state’s duty to ensure the same is significantly amplified. When youth are denied their constitutionally guaranteed right to an education, their chances to break free from their often challenging circumstances and live productive, fruitful adulthoods are greatly diminished.  For these reasons, we urge a favorable report on HB 1607.

HB 161: Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act of 2018

Position: OPPOSE

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

House Bill 161 is the annual version of the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act of 2018, commonly known as the BRFA.  While the Conference does not oppose the entirety of the BRFA, it does stand in firm opposition to Section 16-201.3(d)(1) of the Health-General Article, specifically regarding the reduction of provider rates for behavioral health.  The 2017 Heroin and Opioid Prevention Effort (HOPE) and Treatment Act, required, among other things, a funding rate increase for behavioral health providers of 3.5%.  However, Governor Hogan included only a 2% rate increase in his fiscal year 2019 budget.  

The Catholic Church supports legislation that ensures access to quality, affordable, and life-giving health care for all.  Behavioral health is integral to the health of the entire person, and services that treat mental health, somatic illnesses, and substance use disorders must have adequate funding.  An increasing number of Marylanders are in need of healing and as such, every effort must be made to make services available to all those who are seeking behavioral health care.  The Conference will support expanding access to health care options for all who need it, regardless of status, as every person has a basic right to adequate health care arising from the Church’s teaching on the sanctity and dignity of human life.  

More than one million Marylanders need behavioral healthcare services, including for the treatment of mental health, substance use disorders, and other somatic illnesses.  Untreated behavioral health needs can lead to a host of other social problems, including crime, violence, and homelessness.  The opioid crisis has dramatically intensified the need for behavioral health services in Maryland, and it has affected all jurisdictions in the state, such as difficulties in the delivery of services in rural areas and lack of available providers and beds in suburban and urban settings.  Behavioral healthcare funding is needed to protect not only the most vulnerable among us, but also those who may be marginalized by language barriers, lack of health insurance, or those affected by the rising opioid-related crisis.  

For these reasons, the Conference appreciates your consideration and urges an unfavorable report on House Bill 161.  

HB 1136: County Boards of Education - Student Hearing and Vision Screenings – Reporting Requirements

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this supporting testimony for House Bill 1136.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders and nearly 50,000 students served by more than 150 PreK-12 Catholic schools.  

House Bill 1136 would place requirements on county boards or health departments to report to the Maryland Department of Health on the number of students who did not receive recommended services after failing a vision or hearing screening.  Counties would also be required to provide the reason that each student did not receive the recommended services.  Lastly, each county would be responsible for formulating a written strategy with quantifiable goals to increase the number of students receiving recommended services.

Currently, each county board or health department is required to provide vision and hearing screenings for all students in public schools.  Furthermore, county health departments are required to provide and fund hearing and vision screenings for certain nonpublic and special education schools.  As it currently stands, there are times when eligible nonpublic school students do not even receive the screenings to which they are entitled under current law.  House Bill 1136 may help provide accountability for the requisite screenings.  Moreover, it could help provide the same accountability for the provision of services at public schools.

The health and safety of children is paramount to ensuring the success of future generations of Marylanders. The Catholic Conference thus urges this committee to report favorably on House Bill 1136 in support of all children entitled to vision and hearing screenings, regardless of where they attend school.

SB 557: Public Utilities – Electric Generating Systems – Net Metering and Community Solar Energy

Position: SUPPORT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  We offer this testimony in support of Senate Bill 557.
 
Senate Bill 557 proposes to increase the generating maximum capacity limit for an electric generating system from 2 megawatts to 10 megawatts. The systems are to be used for net metering accounts, and if located on a brownfield site the generating capacity limit will be eliminated.
 
The Conference supports this measure because it would strengthen the Church’s efforts to take advantage of renewable energy sources that benefit our environment by expanding existing solar projects operated by the Church in Maryland.  Specifically, the Archdiocese of Baltimore currently operates a 5.4MW (dc) net aggregate solar generation project. The proposed increase in megawatt capacity could enable the Archdiocese to pursue additional solar opportunities and enable the Archdiocese of Baltimore to partner with companies to create prospects to reduce monetary outlay for electricity. 
 
The ability to have a greater control over energy cost expenditures will in turn free up additional resources that the Archdiocese can direct toward various programs and outreach initiatives already being promoted in the community.  Passage of Senate Bill 557 will also enable the Church to increase our efforts to exercise our responsibility to nurture our planet and to educate the community about sustainable initiatives.   
 
For these reasons, we respectfully urge a favorable report on Senate Bill 557.

SB 863: Juvenile Law - Juvenile Court Jurisdiction

Position: SUPPORT
   
The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of Senate Bill 863.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.
 
Senate Bill 863 would end the automatic charging of a child of at least fourteen years of age as adults when they are: a.) charged as an accomplice or accessory to b.) an offense that would be punishable by life imprisonment if committed by an adult.  The bill would also end the automatic charging of youth of at least sixteen years of age as adults for a number of other offenses, but only when charged as an accomplice or accessory to the offense.   
 
In recent legislative sessions, several proposals to limit the automatic charging of youth as adults have been brought before the General Assembly.  This bill is a much smaller step, but a step in the right direction nonetheless.  It is a fundamentally just step toward refocusing our juvenile justice system from a “waiver-down” system to a “waiver-up” system, wherein juvenile court judges would retain the discretion to waive a case upward to the adult court system upon petition by the State’s Attorney.
 
It is well-settled, in many secular, judicial and faith-based circles, that holding youth to the same standards of accountability as a fully-formed adult is plainly unjust.  In Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), the United States Supreme Court specifically noted that youthful offenders possessed “diminished capacity” and the inability to fully appreciate the risks and consequences of their actions, in considering whether youth should be treated the same as adults jurisprudentially.  Additionally, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has further stated that “society must never respond to children who have committed crimes as though they are somehow equal to adults fully formed in conscience and fully aware of their actions.”  (Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice, USCCB, 2000)  
 
These inherent truths regarding youth should be carefully considered when assessing Maryland’s current automatic-charging law, which presumes that youth should be considered to have the same capacity as an adult.  This presumption can often leave a lasting effect, severely limiting a child’s ceiling for success for rest of their lives.  
 
Senate Bill 863 is a fundamentally fair safeguard for youth who do not act as principal offenders, and are often victims of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  As a strong advocate for restorative justice, particularly within the juvenile system, we ask this body to recognize children as vulnerable in their inherent stage of predevelopment, at least in the limited circumstances provided for in this bill, and issue a favorable report on Senate Bill 863.  

HB 758: Handgun Permit – Church or Religious Organization Property

Position: OPPOSE
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  We offer this testimony in opposition to House Bill 758.
 
House Bill 758 would allow an individual without a gun permit to carry the weapon on church property with the written permission of the governing board of the religious institution.  While Catholic parishes throughout the state of Maryland make every effort to observe reasonable security measures on an as-needed basis, we do so while relying on individuals who are professionally trained to protect parishioners attending services or other church functions.
 
House Bill 758, however, would put this responsibility potentially into the hands of untrained civilians, while also encouraging an increased presence of weapons on church properties.  While we share a concern about ensuring the safety of our congregations, we believe this measure would detract from rather than further that goal.
 
The Catholic Church has historically promoted measures that reduce gun violence and the proliferation of weapons in our community.  House Bill 758 runs counter to those efforts and to our commitment to building a safer society through peaceful measures whenever possible.
 
For these reasons, we respectfully encourage an unfavorable report on House Bill 758.

HB 991: Weapon Crimes – Detachable Magazines and Regulated Firearms – Possession

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

House Bill 991 prohibits the possession of a detachable magazine with the capacity of more than ten rounds of ammunition and expands the range of crimes for which a person who is disqualified from possessing a regulated firearm is subject to a mandatory minimum sentence or penalty, including conspiracy to commit a crime of violence, illegal possession of a handgun, and subsequent violations of firearm possession regulations. 

The Catholic Church has a strong interest in public safety and keeping communities safe.  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states that “[w]e must confront this growing culture of violence with a commitment to life, a vision of hope and a call to action.”  To that point, the Conference supports taking further action to alleviate the symptoms that cause violence, including poverty, lack of economic opportunity, and inadequate education.  Often the communities that are suffering with extreme levels of violence are also lower income areas; shifting the focus from being constantly on the defensive against violence to preventing what might cause the violence to occur in the first place is an important change in also alleviating poverty in these communities.  However and in addition, current criminal justice laws have proven ineffective in curbing rising violence in Baltimore City and around the state.  As such, the Conference supports legislation that restricts access to lethal weapons that endanger entire communities.  When community members are not in fear of their lives, they can live up to their God-given potential and enrich the world around them.  

The Conference appreciates your consideration and, for these reasons, urges a favorable report on House Bill 991.  

HB 994: Maryland Medical Assistance Program – Family Planning Services

Position: OPPOSE

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in OPPOSITION to House Bill 994.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch) dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

HB 994 requires the Maryland Department of Health (MDH) to apply for a State Plan Amendment to expand the Medicaid Family Planning Waiver Program. Medicaid and the Maryland Children’s Health Program (MCHP) must provide coverage for a single dispensing to an enrollee of a 12-month supply of prescription contraceptives. The State Plan Amendment must (1) provide family planning services to men and women with incomes at or below 250% of federal poverty guidelines (FPG); (2) not impose age limitations on individuals who are able to receive family planning services; (3) establish a presumptive eligibility process for enrollment in the Family Planning Program; and (4) exempt the program from federal coordination of benefits requirements, if authorized under federal law.

While the intent of this legislation is apparently to perpetuate existing practice, the Church has historically opposed government-funded programs that provide contraception to minors, and we remain opposed.  At a minimum, we believe the State Plan Amendment should contain a provision explicitly mandating that the program include abstinence-based instruction, using methods that are proven effective through evidence-based research.
We believe also that the State Plan Amendment should include an explicit requirement that, unless a domestic situation warrants otherwise, parents or guardians must be notified and give permission for the provision of contraception to minor children in their care.

Because of the overall goal of the bill, and its omission of the aforementioned provisions, we respectfully urge an unfavorable report on HB 994. Thank you for your consideration.

HB 1031: Public Safety – Regulated Firearms – Transfer

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

House Bill 1031 defines the term “transfer” as it relates to criminal law and firearms, aiming to close a loophole in Maryland law that allows a person to call an illegal transfer of a firearm between two parties a loan, which until this legislation is not illegal.

The Catholic Church has a strong interest in public safety and keeping communities safe.  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states in response to rising violence that “[w]e have an obligation to respond.  Violence – in our homes, our schools and streets, our nation and world – is destroying the lives, dignity and hopes of millions of our sisters and brothers.” To that point, the Church supports legislation that controls the sale and use of and strengthens regulations on dangerous firearms, and other such legislation that makes guns safer.  The Church also supports rational gun control based on the principle that all human life is sacred.  As Catholics, we support this legislation consistent with our belief in the sacredness of all human life as provided for in the Gospel of Jesus; who “came that they may have life and have it to the full.”  (John 10:10).  

Innocent and law abiding citizens are often the victims of crimes involving firearms and handguns in particular.  The Conference acknowledges that gun control alone will not eliminate gun violence.  However, a significant amount of these instances can be decreased if the availability and accessibility to such firearms are reduced.  In practice, the Conference supports legislation that restricts access to lethal weapons that endanger entire communities.  When community members are not in fear of their lives, they can live up to their God-given potential and enrich the world around them.  Every person has a right to life, and the Conference will continue to work to combat violence and promote a culture of peace. 

The Conference appreciates your consideration and, for these reasons, urges you to give a favorable report on House Bill 1031.  

SB 629: Correctional Facilities – Pregnant Inmates – Medical Care

Informational Testimony

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this informational testimony on Senate Bill 629.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

The Maryland Catholic Conference has a long history of supporting policies which enhance the quality of healthcare for pregnant women, especially those who may not have access to satisfactory prenatal care because of incarceration, poverty, homelessness, or other vulnerable life circumstances.  Through numerous prison ministry and outreach programs in the State, the Church’s support of incarcerated men and women is consistent with Catholic social teaching that reveres the inherent and inviolable dignity of all human persons. 

Unfortunately, we cannot support SB 629 as introduced because of certain language it contains. Among our concerns are those provisions that refer to access to abortion, including information about abortion providers and transportation to receive an abortion.  The Church’s opposition to abortion is well known, and while the practice of counseling incarcerated pregnant women on access to abortion no doubt already occurs, we cannot support this aspect of the bill, particularly given the vulnerability of an incarcerated pregnant woman.  Further, we believe there is a significant omission to the measure, since it does not enumerate and enable access to other pregnancy options, including (but not limited to) access to Child Placement Resources such as adoption information and resources, foster care connections, and information on kinship care. If the goal of SB 629 is to provide pregnant inmates with the care and information they deserve as expecting mothers, then we strongly believe that the option of carrying a child to term should be enumerated and accessible and have a place in the written policies of all correctional facilities within the State. We respectfully urge the Committee to amend SB 629 to include language identical to that added by the House Judiciary Committee in an effort to educate and support pregnant, incarcerated women who wish to carry their child to term on the choices available to them and their child.

The bill’s express inclusion of abortion services, while omitting any other pregnancy outcome option, fails to provide incarcerated women with the knowledge and choices they deserve. Therefore we cannot support the bill as introduced. Indeed, the legislation contains numerous provisions which aim to strengthen a pregnant inmate’s quality of care, but fails to offer her a full spectrum of information as she looks to make the best decision concerning the future of her child and her family. 

Thank you for your consideration.

SB 740: State Department of Education – Breakfast and Lunch Program – Funding (Maryland Cares for Kids Act)

 Position: Support with Amendments
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this supporting testimony with amendment to Senate Bill 740.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders. 
 
Senate Bill 740 would allow reduced-meal-eligible students to received breakfast and lunch entirely free under the Federal School Breakfast Program and the National School Lunch Program.  The bill would allow the State to subsidize the reduced-meal-eligible student share of the costs of reduced-priced meals.  Currently, there are approximately 45,000 reduced-meals students in public schools (not including students in schools that participate in the Community Eligibility Provision).
 
Although Maryland is the wealthiest state in the country, one in eight households in Maryland face constant food insecurity. Sadly, children and adolescents are not exempt from that statistic. School breakfast and lunch programs are essential to not only ending hunger, but for improving the health and educational outcomes of students who live with food insecurity.
 
Additionally, as part of the “State Free Feeding Program”, Maryland Education Article 7-605 reiterates that the General Assembly finds it “desirable” that “Private organizations and corporations should be encouraged to participate in the program”.  Those organizations include Catholic, Jewish and other nonpublic schools, agencies such as the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services and other county correctional facilities, various children’s homes, the Maryland School for the Deaf, Associated Catholic Charities, and the Kennedy Krieger Institute.  According to MSDE, among those students served free or reduced breakfast and lunch through the federal programs, other organizations are serving 4,167 free meals-eligible students and 619 reduced meals-eligible students.  
 
Since most of the aforementioned students are free-meals-eligible, there are thus only 619 students whose cost would be subsidized under the proposed amendment.  If each of those students where to eat lunch and breakfast on every school day, the annual cost would be only be $78,000. 
 
The amendment would ensure that ALL nonpublic students in the State of Maryland who are FARMs-eligible and attend participating schools access to completely free breakfast and lunch under the federal programs.  It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference asks for a favorable report, inclusive of the attached amendment, for Senate Bill 740.  We thank the sponsoring senators for their proposed amendment and thank the committee members for their consideration.
 
Amendment One:
Page 1, line 6: after “for”, insert “reimbursing a county board of education or a nonprofit nonpublic school for”; and in line 9, after “education” insert “and nonprofit nonpublic schools”. 
 
Amendment Two:
Page 2, line 13: after “FOR”, insert “REIMBURSING A COUNTY BOARD OR A NONPROFIT NONPUBLIC SCHOOL FOR”. 
 
Amendment Three:
Page 4, line 19: after “EDUCATION” insert “OR A NONPROFIT NONPUBLIC SCHOOL”.

SB 818: Education – Maryland Meals for Achievement In–Classroom Breakfast Program – Eligibility and Annual Appropriation

Position: SUPPORT
   
The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of Senate Bill 818.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

Senate Bill 818 would provide much needed funding for the Maryland Meals for Achievement Program (MMFA), which lends state support to afford schools with greater concentrations of low-income students the ability to provide breakfast to all students, free of charge. Additionally, it would afford participating schools that drop below 40% FARMs-eligible students a one-year grace period.  If that school were to rise above 40% in the following year, this provision would ensure that they remain in the program.  In doing so, continuity in feeding low-income students would be ensured.  This continuity would also provide participating low-income families with the ability to plan their budgets accordingly were their school to loose eligibility for MMFA.

Although Maryland is the wealthiest state in the country, one in eight households in Maryland face constant food insecurity. Sadly, children and adolescents are not exempt from that statistic. School breakfast and lunch programs are essential to not only ending hunger, but for improving the health and educational outcomes of students who live with food insecurity.  
 
Pope Francis has been very outspoken about the epidemic of food insecurity in our world.  He recently stated, “I invite you to make space in your heart for this emergency of respecting the God-given rights of everyone to have access to adequate food. We share what we have in Christian charity with those who face numerous obstacles to satisfy such a basic need.”  He also invited “all of the institutions of the world, the Church, each of us, as one single human family, to give a voice to all of those who suffer silently from hunger, so that this voice becomes a roar which can shake the world.”  (Message for The Campaign Against Global Hunger, December, 2013)

Multiple Maryland Catholic schools serve hundreds of breakfasts every day to their students through the MMFA program.  Our school community recognizes the important role that breakfast plays in sustaining students throughout the day and maximizing their learning potential.  Nutrition programs such as MMFA assist in Catholic schools’ goal of addressing the needs of the whole child and are an important resource for students whose families are unable to provide them enough to eat.  

For all of the reasons stated herein, we support the effort to expand and insure the MMFA program presented through Senate Bill 818 and we request a favorable report.  

SB 969: Public Health - Access to Emergency Contraception - Student Health Centers and Vending Machines

Position: OPPOSE

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in OPPOSITION to Senate Bill 969.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch) dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

SB 969 requires a student health center at a public institution of higher education to provide, during regular operating hours, on-site access to prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) emergency contraception as well as contraceptive counseling or referrals for such counseling to other qualified health care providers. Additionally, a public institution of higher education must ensure the availability of OTC emergency contraception at all times through vending machines or other similar devices, as well as specified information about the availability of, and information relating to, emergency contraception. 

The Church’s opposition to artificial birth control is well known, particularly its impact on encouraging casual sex rather than committed, lasting relationships among teenagers and young adults.  Providing contraception in such a public and readily available manner as a vending machine sends the message not only to college students, but also to visiting middle and high school students, that sexual activity and its implications are as common and trivial as buying a pack of gum. 

However, even those who disagree with the Church’s position on contraception should find ample reason to oppose this legislation.  By mandating that emergency contraceptives be sold in a vending machine on the campus of every public college and university in the state, Senate Bill 969 takes women’s reproductive health care out of the doctor’s office and places it next to snacks, soft drinks, and other items for sale with the press of a button. This automated and impersonal delivery of high doses of hormonal contraceptives even goes against what Planned Parenthood suggests in their materials when it comes to choosing a method of birth control, as they urge women to “talk with your doctor or nurse about your risks and health problems”, adding that healthcare providers will help determine which method would suit the needs and health profile of each individual patient. 

If women of college age, often times living on their own for the first time, have no need to see a health counselor, nurse, or physician about their sexual activity because of the anonymous availability of emergency contraception, they are foregoing numerous components that care provides- education on abstinence, information on sexually transmitted diseases, risk assessments, and sexual assault education and resources. Any policy that diverts the care of young women from the offices of trained health professionals to a vending machine is policy that this Committee should reject.

The Maryland Catholic Conference opposes SB 969 because its provisions are in stark contrast with the Church’s advocacy for quality healthcare and healthy relationships. Church teaching informs us that “[t]he first right of the human person, the right to life, entails a right to the means for the proper development of life, such as adequate health care.” With the numerous policies being considered by the General Assembly to ensure quality healthcare to women and young people, this bill aims to do exactly the opposite, replacing quality, personalized health care with health care delivered via vending machine. 

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges an unfavorable report for SB 969.  Thank you for your consideration.

SB 1092: Education - Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of the Senate Bill 1092, with the attached amendment.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders and nearly 50,000 students served by more than 150 PreK-12 Catholic schools.

Senate Bill 1092 makes several additions to the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (aka “The Kirwan Commission”), establishing and altering several programs and expanding the deadline for the Commission to complete its work by one year.  More particularly, the bill mandates an annual appropriation to the Prekindergarten Expansion Fund, dictating a required amount that is at least equal to all revenues received in prior fiscal year.   

The Conference has been closely monitoring the work of the Kirwan Commission and previously supported the establishment of a workgroup to study the expansion of prekindergarten access to all Maryland four-year-olds.  The Workgroup was tasked with making recommendations to the Kirwan Commission regarding a plan for universally accessible, quality, full–day prekindergarten for all four-year-olds.  In issuing its recommendations, the Workgroup considered and ultimately recommended the utilization of “a mixed delivery system of public and private providers”.

Furthermore, when the General Assembly passed the Prekindergarten Expansion Act of 2014, it was acknowledged that Maryland would not be able to achieve a robust expansion of prekindergarten services to Maryland’s children without the participation of private providers.  The 2014 expansion act thus allowed for expansion sites to be awarded to private providers.

The Conference supports the premise that a diverse delivery system, utilizing both public and private providers, is absolutely necessary in the provision of high-quality private prekindergarten programs in our state.  All three Maryland (arch)dioceses have a strong commitment to education and recognize the important role that kindergarten-readiness plays in a child’s educational development.  Within the State of Maryland, there are approximately 120 prekindergarten programs in Catholic schools or parishes, not including Headstart programs.  

It is for these reasons that we support the entirety of the provisions in Senate Bill 1092, with particular emphasis on funding for diverse-delivery prekindergarten expansion.  We thus request a favorable report.  

HB 1415: Education - Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of the House Bill 1415, with the attached amendment.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders and nearly 50,000 students served by more than 150 PreK-12 Catholic schools.

House Bill 1415 makes several additions to the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (aka “The Kirwan Commission”), establishing and altering several programs and expanding the deadline for the Commission to complete its work by one year months.  More particularly, the bill mandates an annual appropriation to the Prekindergarten Expansion Fund, dictating a required amount that is at least equal to all revenues received in prior fiscal year.   

The Conference has been closely monitoring the work of the Kirwan Commission and previously supported the establishment of a workgroup to study the expansion of prekindergarten access to all Maryland four-year-olds.  The Workgroup was tasked with making recommendations to the Kirwan Commission regarding a plan for universally accessible, quality, full–day prekindergarten for all four-year-olds.  In issuing its recommendations, the Workgroup considered and ultimately recommended the utilization of “a mixed delivery system of public and private providers”.

Furthermore, when the General Assembly passed the Prekindergarten Expansion Act of 2014, it was acknowledged that Maryland would not be able to achieve a robust expansion of prekindergarten services to Maryland’s children without the participation of private providers.  The 2014 expansion act thus allowed for expansion sites to be awarded to private providers.

The Conference supports the premise that a diverse delivery system, utilizing both public and private providers, is absolutely necessary in the provision of high-quality private prekindergarten programs in our state.  All three Maryland (arch)dioceses have a strong commitment to education and recognize the important role that kindergarten-readiness plays in a child’s educational development.  Within the State of Maryland, there are approximately 120 prekindergarten programs in Catholic schools or parishes, not including Headstart programs. 

It is for these reasons that we support the entirety of the provisions in House Bill 1415, with particular emphasis on funding for diverse-delivery prekindergarten expansion.  We thus request a favorable report.  

HB 1613: Appointment or Designation of Standby Guardian – Removal From the United States

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

House Bill 1613 enables a parent subject to a removal process out of the United States to designate a standby guardian for his or her minor child, if that were to occur within two years.

The Catholic Church has a strong interest in supporting immigration policies that preserves family unity and the creation of strong, safe communities.  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops opines that “[e]ven in the case of less urgent migrations, a developed nation's right to limit immigration must be based on justice, mercy, and the common good, not on self-interest.  Moreover, immigration policy ought to take into account other important values such as the right of families to live together.  A merciful immigration policy will not force married couples or children to live separated from their families for long periods.”  

Unfortunately, it appears that there are fluid and continually fluctuating immigration enforcement and removal policies in practice in Maryland, flowing from unclear regulations at the federal level.  This includes undocumented parents of children born in the U.S. facing removal proceedings and being deported, leaving significant numbers of citizen children stuck with an impossible decision to leave the U.S. with their parents or stay here without them.  Allowing parents a legal avenue to make a guardianship decision for their children up to two years prior to deportation provides at least some comfort when facing such an impossible decision.  In giving them a say in advance, they can at least minimally maintain a family structure for their children in the event they are not able to be present.

The Conference appreciates your consideration and, for these reasons, urges a favorable report on House Bill 1613.  

HB 1462: Commercial Driver’s Licenses – Recognition, Prevention, and Reporting of Human Trafficking

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 1462.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch) dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington, D.C. and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

HB 1462 requires the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) to include questions on human trafficking, recognition, prevention, and effective reporting as part of the commercial driver’s license (CDL) knowledge test. In addition, CDL training schools must include education and training on the issue of human trafficking and the MVA must update the Commercial Driver’s License Manual with the appropriate information and provide an applicant renewing a CDL with the updated content.

The Maryland Catholic Conference supports HB 1462 because it educates those working in the commercial transportation industry on trafficking and aids law enforcement in their efforts to identify and end human trafficking.  The Church’s social teaching forbids activities that lead to human beings being bought and sold like merchandise.  Human trafficking – including both sex trafficking and labor trafficking – violates the dignity of all parties involved, but especially its victims.  The bill has the potential to positively affect many human trafficking victims because it requires those obtaining and renewing a CDL to be educated on identifying and reporting suspected human trafficking in the course of their professional duties. The Maryland Catholic Conference advocates for policies that weaken the trafficking economy, support its victims, and increase awareness.

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges a favorable report for HB 1462.  Thank you for your consideration.

HB 1536: Higher Education – Tuition Rates – Exemptions

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

House Bill 1536 changes the circumstances under which some individuals, including undocumented immigrants, will be exempt from paying the out-of-state tuition rate at community colleges and eligible to pay an equivalent rate to the resident tuition rate at a public senior higher education institution.

The original Maryland DREAM Act extended in-state tuition eligibility to Maryland high school graduates who provided proof that they or their parents have been paying income taxes so they could attend Maryland colleges and universities more feasibly. It has been successful in making a college education possible for many immigrant Marylanders. 

Yet, the primary restrictions under the original Maryland DREAM Act have limited the number of Marylanders who can access higher education. The requirement that students must first attend a community college before attending a four-year institution in order to qualify for in-state tuition greatly restricts the choices for undocumented students in their pursuit of postsecondary education. In addition to that, the requirement for students to attend a community college in the jurisdiction where they graduated from high school limits the ability to choose colleges that have degree programs that best suit their needs and educational goals.

The proposed legislation removes the aforementioned restrictions and expands protections to Marylanders who have been provided deferred action relief under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. By making a college education more accessible and affordable to Maryland youth, we are able to provide them with greater opportunities –opportunities for higher education, to acquire job skills, and to have a better chance of supporting themselves and their families in the future.

The Conference appreciates your consideration and, for these reasons, urges you issue a favorable report on House Bill 1536.  

HB 1630: Higher Education - James Proctor Scholarship Program

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public-policy interests of the three Catholic (arch)dioceses serving the state of Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  It is our great pleasure to offer this testimony in support of House Bill 1630.

House Bill 1630 would honor one of the Conference’s most beloved members of the Maryland General Assembly by establishing the James Proctor Scholarship Program at historically black colleges and universities.  This honor appropriately commemorates Delegate Proctor’s passion for ensuring every young person in Maryland has access to excellent and affordable educational opportunities, especially young men and women of color.  The lives and future success of the deserving students who would be the recipients of this scholarship would provide a fitting witness to the legacy that Delegate Proctor worked for so many years to achieve.  It is a fitting tribute to a man of integrity and humility who worked tirelessly to benefit his community and to uphold the values that reflect his deeply-held faith in God, his state and country, and the dignity of all persons.

The Catholic Church in Maryland is indebted to Delegate Proctor for the countless ways he embraced and defended many of the causes promoted by the Church during his years in the General Assembly.  We join the sponsors of House Bill 1630 in conveying our appreciation for Delegate Proctor’s tenure in the General Assembly by enthusiastically supporting this commemoration of his service.  

We urge the committee to do so as well by giving a favorable report to this worthy measure.

HB 1355: Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act of 2018

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 1355 (HB 1355).  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.
 
HB 1355 prohibits an individual from purposely performing or attempting to perform a “dismemberment abortion” that kills an unborn child unless the abortion is necessary to prevent a “serious health risk to the pregnant woman.”  The bill may not be construed to create or recognize a right to an abortion or a right to a particular method of abortion.  In addition, the bill’s prohibitions may not be construed to prevent an abortion for any reason, including rape and incest, or by any other method.

The Church supports HB 1355 because its provisions intersect with the Church’s obligation to uphold respect for all human life.  The Catholic Church firmly believes in the dignity of human life from natural conception to natural death, and the partial limitations that HB 1355 places on legal abortion procedures in Maryland represent a positive policy development.  Maryland has some of the highest abortion rates in the nation due to the permissive language currently used in its state laws.  Maryland’s 2014 induced abortion rate was equivalent to nearly 80 per day, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute.  

The Maryland Catholic Conference works to foster a culture of life in Maryland by advocating for laws that uphold the dignity of the human person and that assist pregnant women in need, while working to ensure that the State sets and enforces safe standards for women’s health care.  
The Conference supports legislation that would place qualifying conditions on the scope of abortions performed in Maryland, which allows abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, with essentially no restrictions on why those abortions are performed.

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges a favorable report for HB 1355.  Thank you for your consideration.

HB 1424: Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 1424 (HB 1424).  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.
 
HB 1424 requires a qualified physician to determine the probable age of an unborn child before performing or inducing an abortion except in specified circumstances.  If the unborn child has a probable post-fertilization age of 20 weeks or more, the physician is prohibited from performing or inducing an abortion except in specified circumstances.  The bill also establishes reporting requirements for physicians and the Maryland Department of Health (MDH) and establishes civil actions, disciplinary actions, and penalties for physicians who violate the bill.  

The human “right to life” is rooted in the fact that life ethics and social justice are inextricably intertwined in the concept of human dignity.  Pope John Paul II writes that “a society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or marginalized.”  

Abortion violates this inherent right by ending the life of an unborn child.  Specifically, Maryland has some of the highest abortion rates in the nation due to the permissive language currently used in its state laws.  For example, Maryland’s 2014 induced abortion rate was equivalent to nearly 80 per day, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute.  

The Maryland Catholic Conference works to foster a culture of life in Maryland by advocating for laws that uphold the dignity of the human person and that assist pregnant women in need, while working to ensure that the State offers safe standards for women’s health.  The Conference supports legislation that would place qualifying conditions on the scope of abortions performed in Maryland, which currently allows abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, with essentially no restrictions on why those abortions are performed.

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference urges a favorable report for HB 1424.  Thank you for your consideration.

HB 1650: Maryland Department of Health - Maryland Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Grant Program

Position: OPPOSE

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in OPPOSITION to House Bill 1650.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch) dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

HB 1650 establishes the Maryland Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Grant Program in the Maryland Department of Health (MDH) to provide grants and contracts to fund specified teenage pregnancy prevention programs and teenage pregnancy prevention research and demonstration programs. If a teenage pregnancy prevention program receives funding under the grant program and is discontinued as a recipient of federal funding, the grant program must provide funding to maintain previous federal funding levels. Beginning in fiscal 2020, the program must be funded as provided for in the State budget.

The Church’s opposition to artificial birth control is well known, particularly its impact on encouraging casual sex rather than committed, lasting relationships among teenagers and young adults.  While the intent of this legislation is to perpetuate existing programs in the event of federal funding cuts, the Church has historically opposed government-funded programs that provide contraception or contraceptive counseling to minors, and we remain opposed.  At a minimum, we believe that any sexual health programs aimed at minors should focus on abstinence-based instruction, using methods that are proven effective through evidence-based research.

We also believe that, if such programs should continue, they include an explicit requirement that, unless a domestic situation warrants otherwise, parents or guardians must be notified and give permission if contraception is distributed, or a referral for contraceptive counseling is given, to a minor as a result of their participation in the program.

Because of the overall goal of the bill, and its omission of the aforementioned provisions, we respectfully urge an unfavorable report on HB 1650. Thank you for your consideration.

SB 1335: Public Health - Abortions Sought by Minors - Parent or Guardian Consent

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 1335.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch) dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

HB 1335 repeals existing provisions relating to parental or guardian notification for abortions sought by minors. The bill instead prohibits a physician from performing an abortion on an unmarried minor without first obtaining consent from the minor’s parent or guardian, unless (1) the minor provides the physician with a court order authorizing waiver of parental consent in accordance with the bill’s procedures; (2) the minor declares that she was abused or neglected and the physician reports the suspected abuse or neglect in accordance with specified provisions of law; or (3) there is a medical emergency and the physician certifies the facts justifying the exception in the minor’s medical record.

The Church’s opposition to abortion is well known, and the Maryland Catholic Conference has long advocated against enactment of Maryland’s abortion laws, which are some of the most permissive in the country.  Even those who don’t agree with the Church’s opposition to abortion agree that the most egregious amongst Maryland’s broad  and lenient abortion laws are those concerning parental notification of a minor seeking an abortion. Although, in theory, Maryland has a law requiring that parents be notified before a minor’s abortion, the current law is ineffective and needs to be changed.  In its present form, it doesn’t protect children and it doesn’t respect parents’ rights to be involved in the health care decisions of their minor daughters.  With an effective parental notice law that includes the provisions contained in HB 1335, suspected abuse, both physical and sexual, as well as suspected cases of human trafficking, are much more likely to be reported to the authorities.

Proposed changes to the existing parental notification law would ensure quality appropriate care is administered, as current law overlooks the serious medical nature of an abortion procedure. We don’t allow the burden of a medical procedure and the decisions it entails to rest on the shoulders of minors in any other circumstance.  A parent’s consent is required for all non-emergency surgical procedures with the exception of an abortion.  Parents are required to consult with the medical provider so they can give the girl’s medical history, the family medical history, and so they can obtain information about post-procedural care of the child.  By being left out of the discussions regarding their child’s abortive procedure, they are unable to properly care for the child after the procedure is performed, they are not aware of complications to look for, and they are unable to identify and help their child address possible long-term consequences, such as depression and anxiety.

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges a favorable report for HB 1335.  Thank you for your consideration.

SB 909: Maryland No-Fault Birth Injury Fund

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

House Bill 909 would create a no-fault birth injury fund to provide fair and equitable compensation on a no-fault basis for a limited class of birth-related injuries.  

The Church supports legislation that ensures access to quality, affordable, life-giving health care for all. Access to medical care is considered a basic human right that flows from the dignity of the human person. 

In Maryland, there is a growing concern that recent multimillion-dollar medical malpractice judgments could limit maternity care access for low-income expectant mothers. In fact, the Maryland Hospital Association  noted that Maryland had a total medical malpractice payout amount of $109 million in 2015, making Maryland one of nine states with over $100 million in payouts. Hospitals in Maryland are concerned that these jury awards could result in a significant reduction in maternity health care services because medical decisions could be based more on the fear of a malpractice lawsuit than what is best for the patient. There is evidence to support the fact that such concerns have been realized in other areas of the country as well.  

Fortunately, a precedent exists to combat these growing concerns. The establishment of no-fault birth injury funds in states such as Virginia and Florida show that fair and equitable solutions are available to protect both injured parties and health care providers. Protecting one of Maryland’s most vulnerable populations, low-income mothers and young children, is a worthy endeavor. The Conference supports creating a no-fault birth injury fund that provides, first and foremost, the necessary care of injured parties while also limiting liability costs for health care providers who administer care to Maryland’s most vulnerable populations.         

The Conference appreciates your consideration and urges you to issue a favorable report on House Bill 909.  

DE02.02 - Public School Construction – Nonpublic Aging Schools Program - FY 2019 (Senate)

Position: SUPPORT 
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of the Nonpublic Aging Schools Program.  The Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.  We offer this testimony on behalf of the families of more than 50,000 students served by over 150 PreK-12 Catholic schools in Maryland. 
 
The Nonpublic Aging Schools Program provides grants to nonpublic schools for deferred maintenance, school security improvements and infrastructure renovation, making participating schools safer for tens of thousands of children.  This program has been funded at $3.5 million for the preceding five fiscal years.  It is administered by the Interagency Committee on School Construction, but is a separate fund and does not take any money from the Public School Construction Program.  
 
This program is growing more and more popular.  More schools have applied for the program for FY 2018 than ever before.  Over 80,000 of the 100,000-plus K-12 children enrolled in Maryland’s nonpublic schools attend a school that is eligible to benefit from this program, by virtue of the fact that their schools charge a tuition lower than the state per-pupil average expenditure for public school students.  The program has made a statewide impact and has been highly popular with administrators in every county and legislative district.  
 
The $3.5 million provided for this program goes a long way.  Last year, scores of nonpublic schools met one or both of the following criteria that yielded a higher grant amount:  a.) a 20% or greater FARMs-eligible student enrollment or b.) a school facility that is 50 or more years old.  These lower-income or older schools have been able to complete maintenance projects or security upgrades that they’ve often had to postpone for several years due to budgetary constraints.  
 
Specifically, thousands of lower and middle-income families are served by Maryland’s Catholic schools every year.  Thus, the Maryland Catholic Conference offers its support for the Nonpublic Aging Schools Program as a means of supporting those students, families and schools in need, as it truly provides a safer, more productive school environment.  Maryland’s Catholic school community emphatically thanks this committee for its past support of the Nonpublic Aging Schools Program and asks that it please continue that support in FY 2019.

SB 1134: Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council

Position: SUPPORT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of Senate Bill 1134.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.
 
Senate Bill 1134 would authorize the creation of a “Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council”.  The council would be charged with studying aspects of Maryland’s juvenile justice system, many aimed at restoration, such as education, support services and recidivism prevention.  The Council would also be charged with reviewing best practices from other states.    
 
In 2015, the General Assembly undertook a monumental bipartisan effort to establish the “Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council”, which reviewed of numerous aspects of Maryland’s adult criminal justice system.  That effort led to the passage of the seminal “Justice Reinvestment Act” the following year, supported by the Conference.  On the heels of such a successful, bipartisan effort, one might ask:  if Maryland is willing to undertake a sweeping introspection into its adult criminal justice system, why not do the same with our youth justice system?    
 
In the pastoral statement "Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice” (2000), the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated, “We call upon government to redirect the vast amount of public resources away from building more and more prisons and toward better and more effective programs aimed at crime prevention, rehabilitation, education efforts, substance abuse treatment, and programs of probation, parole and reintegration.”  Additionally, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has further stated that “society must never respond to children who have committed crimes as though they are somehow equal to adults fully formed in conscience and fully aware of their actions.”  Moreover, it is well-settled, in many secular, judicial and faith-based circles, that holding youth to the same standards of accountability as a fully-formed adult is plainly unjust.  In Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), the United States Supreme Court specifically noted that youthful offenders possessed “diminished capacity” and the inability to fully appreciate the risks and consequences of their actions.  
 
In recent years, the MCC has supported various juvenile justice reform proposals.  Whether it was increased educational services for incarcerated youths, limitations automatically charging youth as adults, eradicating without parole for juvenile offenders, or ensuring that youth are not housed with adult inmates, all of these efforts were grounded in Church teaching.  The Church thus remains a strong advocate for restorative justice, particularly within the juvenile system.  We therefore urge a favorable report on Senate Bill 1134, thus authorizing a much-needed review of Maryland’s juvenile justice system.

HB 1235: Education – Maryland Meals for Achievement In–Classroom Breakfast Program – Eligibility and Annual Appropriation

Position: SUPPORT
   
The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 1235.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

House Bill 1235 would provide much needed funding for the Maryland Meals for Achievement Program (MMFA), which lends state support to afford schools with greater concentrations of low-income students the ability to provide breakfast to all students, free of charge. Additionally, it would afford participating schools that drop below 40% FARMs-eligible students a one-year grace period.  If that school were to rise above 40% in the following year, this provision would ensure that they remain in the program.  In doing so, continuity in feeding low-income students would be ensured.  This continuity would also provide participating low-income families with the ability to plan their budgets accordingly were their school to loose eligibility for MMFA.
Although Maryland is the wealthiest state in the country, one in eight households in Maryland face constant food insecurity. Sadly, children and adolescents are not exempt from that statistic. School breakfast and lunch programs are essential to not only ending hunger, but for improving the health and educational outcomes of students who live with food insecurity.  

Pope Francis has been very outspoken about the epidemic of food insecurity in our world.  He recently stated, “I invite you to make space in your heart for this emergency of respecting the God-given rights of everyone to have access to adequate food. We share what we have in Christian charity with those who face numerous obstacles to satisfy such a basic need.”  He also invited “all of the institutions of the world, the Church, each of us, as one single human family, to give a voice to all of those who suffer silently from hunger, so that this voice becomes a roar which can shake the world.”  (Message for The Campaign Against Global Hunger, December, 2013)

Multiple Maryland Catholic schools serve hundreds of breakfasts every day to their students through the MMFA program.  Our school community recognizes the important role that breakfast plays in sustaining students throughout the day and maximizing their learning potential.  Nutrition programs such as MMFA assist in Catholic schools’ goal of addressing the needs of the whole child and are an important resource for students whose families are unable to provide them enough to eat.  

For all of the reasons stated herein, we support the effort to expand and insure the MMFA program presented through House Bill 1235 and we request a favorable report.  

HB 1276: Criminal Law - Human Trafficking and Prostitution Offenses

Position: SUPPORT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 1276.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch) dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.
 
This bill expands prohibitions on human trafficking, establishes the offense of “labor trafficking” and creates separate offenses for behavior similar to those currently prohibited under various human trafficking and prostitution statutes, renames “human trafficking” as “sex trafficking”, adds felony sex trafficking to the definition of a “crime of violence”, and makes corresponding changes to existing statutes to reflect the bill’s alteration of offenses. The bill also creates the offense of “forced marriage”.
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference advocates for policies that weaken the trafficking economy, support its victims, and increase awareness. The Church’s social teaching forbids activities that lead to human beings being bought and sold like merchandise.  Human trafficking – including both sex trafficking and labor trafficking – violates the dignity of all parties involved, but especially its victims.  The bill has the potential to positively affect many human and labor trafficking victims by further defining and clarifying sex trafficking and labor trafficking as unique offenses and strengthening the charges associated with these crimes to more accurately reflect the severe and lasting human and societal impact of these offenses. In creating an offense of “forced marriage”, the legislation reflects the Catechism of the Catholic Church which states that the Church holds the exchange of consent between the spouses to be an indispensable element of marriage. If consent is lacking, there is no marriage, and no coercion or grave external fear can substitute for this consent.
 
Pope Francis has said that “Human trafficking is a crime against humanity. We must unite our efforts to free victims and stop this crime that's become ever more aggressive, that threatens not just individuals, but the foundational values of society, our families, and communities”.
 
It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges a favorable report for HB 1276.  Thank you for your consideration.

HB 1643: Income Tax - Credit for Contributions to the Maryland Excellence in Education Fund

Position: Support with Amendment
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this supporting testimony with amendment to House Bill 1643.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders and nearly 50,000 students served by more than 150 PreK-12 Catholic schools.  
 
House Bill 1643 would create a Maryland Excellence in Education Fund.  The purpose of the bill is twofold: 1.) to provide Maryland taxpayers with an additional avenue for tax deductions in the wake of the passage of the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and 2.) to provide an additional source of supplemental revenue for school construction, primary and secondary education programs and higher education scholarships for low-income students.
 
The Catholic Conference supports adequate funding for public schools, school construction.  Moreover, increased access to higher education, particularly for low-income students is fully supported by the Church and we find this legislation to be a laudable means to that end.  However, additionally, the Conference has advocated over the last decade for a similar tax credit concept to expand student educational options at both public and nonpublic schools.  Polling conducted at that time, just a couple of years ago, showed the 7 in 10 Maryland voters supported the bipartisan measure.  
 
Therefore, we offer the attached amendment to provide an additional purpose for tax credit eligibility: donations to the already-existing Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today Program.   Now in its second year, BOOST is providing thousands of students with new educational options, chosen by their parents.  Demand for BOOST is increasing and, for this school year, there was a 50% increase in applications, to over 4,500 certified applicants.  58% of new recipients and 890 students in total were public school students.  Moreover, public school students were given significantly higher scholarship amounts.  63% of recipients are minorities and the average household income of all recipients was just over $25,000.  A waitlist remains.   
 
Lastly, such an amendment to this legislation would provide a viable way to increase options and make BOOST scholarships more meaningful across the board, without having to tap into general fund expenditures.  It is for the aforementioned reasons that we ask for a favorable report with the attached amendment for House Bill 1643.  
 
Proposed Amendment to HB 1643
Income Tax –Credit for Contributions to the Maryland Excellence in Education Fund
Amendment One: Page 4, line 14: after “STUDENTS” insert “; (IV) SCHOLARPSHIPS FOR LOW-INCOME STUDENTS UNDER THE BROADENING OPTIONS AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR STUDENTS TODAY PROGRAM” 

HB 1461: Criminal Procedure – Immigration – Supporting All Families Everywhere (SAFE Act)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

House Bill 1461 would restore community trust in law enforcement by prohibiting law enforcement officials from stopping, arresting, searching, or detaining an individual for purposes of investigating a suspected immigration violation or solely based on a civil immigration warrant. The legislation also requires the Attorney General and other stakeholders to develop and adopt model policies to ensure that public schools, hospitals, and courthouses remain accessible and safe to all, regardless of immigration status. 

The Catholic Church has historically held a strong interest in immigration and how public policy affects immigrants seeking a new life in the United States. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supports comprehensive immigration reform. However, in the absence of such reform, immigration law enforcement can neither cease completely nor continue unabated in its current status. There has to be greater clarity in the roles of local, state, and federal law enforcement in immigration enforcement and detainment. 

Unfortunately, when local and state law enforcement are requested to take part in programs that engage local and state police in immigration enforcement, such as the Priority Enforcement Program (formerly the Secure Communities program), it causes an erosion of their critical relationship with immigrant communities. A survey by the University of Illinois at Chicago  noted that when Latino communities fear that interactions with local or state law enforcement will lead to inquiries about immigration status, 45% are less likely to report crimes and 45% are less likely to give information about a crime. Additionally, 70% of undocumented immigrants are less likely to contact law enforcement if they are victims of crime. Even 28% of U.S.-born Latinos were less likely to report being a victim of crime out of fear that it would generate inquiries into their immigration status or the status of someone they know. When immigrant communities do not feel comfortable interacting with police, even to report crimes, then whole communities are less safe as crimes go unreported and/or unsolved.

Furthermore, the rate of deportation for non- and low-level criminal defenders creates another disincentive for immigrants to reach out and contact local and state law enforcement when matters of public safety occur. A 2014 article in The Baltimore Sun  noted that over 40% of the Maryland immigrants deported under the Secure Communities program from 2009 until the writing of that article had no prior criminal record, which was about double the national average. The article also highlighted a report from the Maryland Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which found that 76% of immigration detainers filed in Maryland between 2010 and 2012 were filed against immigrants with traffic or misdemeanor charges rather than those who have been convicted of serious criminal offenses or pose a threat to public safety.

On World Day of Migrants and Refugees in 2016, Pope Francis said, It is important to view migrants not only on the basis of their status as regular or irregular, but above all as people whose dignity is to be protected and who are capable of contributing to progress and the general welfare. This is especially the case when they responsibly assume their obligations towards those who receive them, gratefully respecting the material and spiritual heritage of the host country, obeying its laws and helping with its needs. Migrations cannot be reduced merely to their political and legislative aspects, their economic implications and the concrete coexistence of various cultures in one territory. All these complement the defence and promotion of the human person, the culture of encounter, and the unity of peoples, where the Gospel of mercy inspires and encourages ways of renewing and transforming the whole of humanity. 

House Bill 1461 balances the needs for both public safety and immigration enforcement in order to make families and communities safer. It will rebuild the necessary trust between law enforcement and immigrants throughout Maryland.    

The Conference appreciates your consideration and, for these reasons, urges you to give a favorable report on House Bill 1461.  

HB 1493: Labor and Employment – Regulation of Farm Labor Contractors and Foreign Labor Contractors

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

House Bill 1493 expands the current farm labor contracting state licensing statute to all foreign labor contractors by requiring an individual to be licensed by the Commissioner of Labor and Industry before the individual may perform a foreign labor contracting service in the State for consideration, and for all employers to use only licensed contractors to perform contracting services. 

The Catholic Church strongly opposes human trafficking because it disregards the dignity of human life. Although anti-human trafficking efforts often focus on sex trafficking, the Church reminds us to turn our attention to labor trafficking that is very prevalent in the United States as well. The Church is also a strong advocate for immigrants and the needs and rights of workers.

Many people come to Maryland through visa programs that allow them to work here for certain amounts of time and they do not deserve to be exploited in that process. Sadly, it is far too common for the terms of employment to be misrepresented and/or for contractors to charge exorbitant fees that put workers in debt bondage. Expanding the state licensing requirement to apply to all foreign labor contractors gives the State greater ability to determine which foreign labor contractors can operate in the State, ensures that workers receive truthful contracts, prohibits contractors from charging workers any fees for their services, and promotes transparency for businesses, workers, and the State by establishing a public registry of all licensed contractors. This legislation is a recognition of the need for regulation in the foreign labor recruitment process to prevent such exploitation. 

Pope Francis said, “Human trafficking is a crime against humanity. We must unite our efforts to free the victims and stop this increasingly aggressive crime which threatens not only individuals but the basic values of society and of international security and justice.” Let us unite in our efforts to prevent labor trafficking in Maryland.

The Conference appreciates your consideration and, for these reasons, urges a favorable report on House Bill 1493.  

HB 1729: Family Investment Program – Temporary Cash Assistance – Funding

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

House Bill 1729 would increase the levels of Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA) incrementally to meet to meet the state minimum living level when combined with federal food stamp assistance.  

The Church teaches that the state has a moral obligation to have a budget that reflects a preferential care and love for the poor and vulnerable. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that “it is the proper function of authority to arbitrate, in the name of the common good, between various particular interests; but it should make accessible to each what is needed to lead a truly human life: food, clothing, health, work, education and culture” (no. 1908).

The Conference frequently advocates for the protection of social safety net programs included in the state budget to promote the common good in Maryland.  Given the budget challenges for this year and the coming years, it is especially important to evaluate how current funding is or is not meeting the needs of all programs and how they grow in its capacity to assist Marylanders. Without adequate funding for programs and grants like TCA, vulnerable Marylanders will face additional obstacles to self-sufficiency due to their inability to meet their basic needs.  Increasing TCA will allow the program to be stabilized and grow proportional to the needs of its recipients.  

For these reasons, the Conference appreciates your consideration and urges a favorable report on House Bill 1729.  

SB 449: Public Health- Abortions - Viability

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of Senate Bill 449 (SB 449).  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.
 
SB 449 alters the definition of a “viable” fetus in relation to the obtainment or performance of an abortion to mean the stage beginning at 24 weeks gestation.   

The human “right to life” is rooted in the fact that life ethics and social justice are inextricably intertwined in the concept of human dignity.  Pope John Paul II writes that “a society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or marginalized.”  

Abortion violates this inherent right by ending the life of an unborn child.  Specifically, Maryland has some of the highest abortion rates in the nation due to the permissive language currently used in its state laws.  For example, Maryland’s 2014 induced abortion rate was equivalent to nearly 80 per day, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute.  

The Maryland Catholic Conference works to foster a culture of life in Maryland by advocating for laws that uphold the dignity of the human person and that assist pregnant women in need, while working to ensure that the State offers safe standards for women’s health.  The Conference supports legislation that would place qualifying conditions on the scope of abortions performed in Maryland, which currently allows abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, with essentially no restrictions on why those abortions are performed.

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference urges a favorable report for SB 449.  Thank you for your consideration.

SB 1164: Family Investment Program – Temporary Cash Assistance – Funding

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

Senate Bill 1164 would increase the levels of Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA) incrementally to meet to meet the state minimum living level when combined with federal food stamp assistance.  

The Church teaches that the state has a moral obligation to have a budget that reflects a preferential care and love for the poor and vulnerable. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that “it is the proper function of authority to arbitrate, in the name of the common good, between various particular interests; but it should make accessible to each what is needed to lead a truly human life: food, clothing, health, work, education and culture” (no. 1908).

The Conference frequently advocates for the protection of social safety net programs included in the state budget to promote the common good in Maryland.  Given the budget challenges for this year and the coming years, it is especially important to evaluate how current funding is or is not meeting the needs of all programs and how they grow in its capacity to assist Marylanders. Without adequate funding for programs and grants like TCA, vulnerable Marylanders will face additional obstacles to self-sufficiency due to their inability to meet their basic needs.  Increasing TCA will allow the program to be stabilized and grow proportional to the needs of its recipients.  

For these reasons, the Conference appreciates your consideration and urges a favorable report on Senate Bill 1164.  

HB 1111: Public Health - Access to Emergency Contraception - Student Health Centers and Vending Machines

Position: OPPOSE

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in OPPOSITION to House Bill 1111.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch) dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

HB 1111 requires a student health center at a public institution of higher education to provide, during regular operating hours, on-site access to prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) emergency contraception as well as contraceptive counseling or referrals for such counseling to other qualified health care providers. Additionally, a public institution of higher education must ensure the availability of OTC emergency contraception at all times through vending machines or other similar devices, as well as specified information about the availability of, and information relating to, emergency contraception. 
The Church’s opposition to artificial birth control is well known, particularly its impact on encouraging casual sex rather than committed, lasting relationships among teenagers and young adults.  Providing contraception in such a public and readily available manner as a vending machine sends the message not only to college students, but also to visiting middle and high school students, that sexual activity and its implications are as common and trivial as buying a pack of gum. 

However, even those who disagree with the Church’s position on contraception should find ample reason to oppose this legislation.  By mandating that emergency contraceptives be sold in a vending machine on the campus of every public college and university in the state, HB 1111 takes women’s reproductive health care out of the doctor’s office and places it next to snacks, soft drinks, and other items for sale with the press of a button. This automated and impersonal delivery of high doses of hormonal contraceptives even goes against what Planned Parenthood suggests in their materials when it comes to choosing a method of birth control, as they urge women to “talk with your doctor or nurse about your risks and health problems”, adding that healthcare providers will help determine which method would suit the needs and health profile of each individual patient. 

If women of college age, often times living on their own for the first time, have no need to see a health counselor, nurse, or physician about their sexual activity because of the anonymous availability of emergency contraception, they are foregoing numerous components that care provides- education on abstinence, information on sexually transmitted diseases, risk assessments, and sexual assault education and resources. Any policy that diverts the care of young women from the offices of trained health professionals to a vending machine is policy that this Committee should reject.

The Maryland Catholic Conference opposes HB 1111 because its provisions are in stark contrast with the Church’s advocacy for quality healthcare and healthy relationships. Church teaching informs us that “[t]he first right of the human person, the right to life, entails a right to the means for the proper development of life, such as adequate health care.” With the numerous policies being considered by the General Assembly to ensure quality healthcare to women and young people, this bill aims to do exactly the opposite, replacing quality, personalized health care with health care delivered via vending machine. 

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges an unfavorable report for HB 1111.  Thank you for your consideration.

SB 964: Social Services – Safe Harbor Child Trafficking Victim Service Pilot Program

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of Senate Bill 964.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch) dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

SB 964 establishes, as the result of recommendations made by the Workgroup to Study Safe Harbor Policy for Youth Victims of Human Trafficking, a Safe Harbor Child Trafficking Victim Service Pilot Program, which must be implemented in the local departments of social services in Baltimore and Washington Counties. The pilot program’s purpose is to address the specialized needs of children who are victims of sex trafficking by linking victims to necessary support services through a community-based agency appointed as the Regional Child Trafficking Advocate.

The services that will be offered by the appointed advocate in each County involved with the pilot program, including complete victim assessments, safety planning, crisis intervention, case management services, and advocating on behalf of the child are all much-needed local resources in the effort to combat and eradicate human trafficking from our communities and our state. The work of the pilot programs to establish outreach services to sex-trafficked children in the community and provide educational training on child sex trafficking to regional stakeholders and human services professionals will lay a solid foundation for statewide efforts to abolish this heinous exploitation of children.

The Maryland Catholic Conference advocates for policies that weaken the trafficking economy, support its victims, and increase awareness. Pope Francis has strenuously called on society to make every effort to eradicate sex trafficking, which he has called a “shameful and intolerable crime.”  Moreover, he has urged government officials to “combat this scourge with firmness, giving voice to our younger brothers and sisters who have been wounded in their dignity, and constitutes a true crime against humanity.”

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges a favorable report for SB 964.  Thank you for your consideration.

DE02.02 - Public School Construction – Nonpublic Aging Schools Program - FY 2019 (House)

Position: SUPPORT 
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of the Nonpublic Aging Schools Program.  The Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.  We offer this testimony on behalf of the families of more than 50,000 students served by over 150 PreK-12 Catholic schools in Maryland. 
 
The Nonpublic Aging Schools Program provides grants to nonpublic schools for deferred maintenance, school security improvements and infrastructure renovation, making participating schools safer for tens of thousands of children.  This program has been funded at $3.5 million for the preceding five fiscal years.  It is administered by the Interagency Committee on School Construction, but is a separate fund and does not take any money from the Public School Construction Program.  
 
This program is growing more and more popular.  More schools have applied for the program for FY 2018 than ever before.  Over 80,000 of the 100,000-plus K-12 children enrolled in Maryland’s nonpublic schools attend a school that is eligible to benefit from this program, by virtue of the fact that their schools charge a tuition lower than the state per-pupil average expenditure for public school students.  The program has made a statewide impact and has been highly popular with administrators in every county and legislative district.  
 
The $3.5 million provided for this program goes a long way.  Last year, scores of nonpublic schools met one or both of the following criteria that yielded a higher grant amount:  a.) a 20% or greater FARMs-eligible student enrollment or b.) a school facility that is 50 or more years old.  These lower-income or older schools have been able to complete maintenance projects or security upgrades that they’ve often had to postpone for several years due to budgetary constraints.  
 
Specifically, thousands of lower and middle-income families are served by Maryland’s Catholic schools every year.  Thus, the Maryland Catholic Conference offers its support for the Nonpublic Aging Schools Program as a means of supporting those students, families and schools in need, as it truly provides a safer, more productive school environment.  Maryland’s Catholic school community emphatically thanks this committee for its past support of the Nonpublic Aging Schools Program and asks that it please continue that support in FY 2019.

SB 308: Foster Care Recipients and Unaccompanied Homeless Youth - Employment Program (Fostering Employment Act of 2018) (House)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of the Senate Bill 308.  The Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

Senate Bill 308 would require the development of a program to provide job training opportunities to foster care recipients and unaccompanied homeless youth.  Currently, foster care recipients and unaccompanied homeless youth are eligible to receive tuition waivers at public higher education institutions.  However, not all qualify for the tuition waivers, particularly when a youth is participating in a registered apprenticeship or other job training program that is not associated or currently partnering with an institution of higher education.  This bill would allow for an expansion of benefits to foster care recipients and unaccompanied homeless youth by establishing a “Fostering Employment Program”, which would allow those young people to obtain credentials that would render them job-ready.  Lastly, it is important to note that this program can be implemented with little or no cost to the state, through leveraging existing federal funding. 

Often, foster care recipients and unaccompanied homeless youth face significant financial challenges.  Laudably, the State of Maryland has taken recent steps to provide these youth an opportunity for a tuition-exempt education, which provides them a path to financial independence.  However, higher education is not always either a feasible or proper fit for every youth.  Senate Bill 308 would ensure that those who seek apprenticeship or job training are not left out and are given the same opportunities as their counterparts to advance both educationally and economically. 

Pope Francis has routinely stressed the importance of providing such opportunities for those of limited means, which includes “education, …and above all employment, for it is through free, creative, participatory and mutually supportive labor that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives.”  (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 192). 

Senate Bill 308 will assist in providing both knowledge and skill, with an aim toward eventually gainful employment, to youth who might otherwise face serious obstacles to obtaining those things.  It is for these reasons that we urge a favorable report for Senate Bill 308.      

SB 373: Education – Head Start Program – Annual Appropriation (The Ulysses Currie Act) (House)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

Senate Bill 373 mandates that the governor include at least three million dollars in his annual budget for the Head Start program.  

The Catholic Church has a strong interest in both advocating for access to quality education and alleviating poverty.  Education is often the first line of defense against the cycle of poverty that can entrap children in less than desirable circumstances as they grow and begin to participate in society.  

The Conference continually supports legislation that upholds the needs of families.  Head Start is an essential program to help alleviate poverty and benefits both young children and their parents simultaneously.  Its overarching goal is to prepare low-income children for school readiness prior to entering elementary school.  Too often there is a stark divide between low-income children entering school for the first time and children who come from families of means who are able to afford educational opportunities prior to kindergarten.  This divide ranges from basic abilities in reading to age-appropriate socialization to overcoming language barriers for children who might speak a second language at home.  Head Start works to level this playing field so low-income children are not entering kindergarten and elementary school behind their other peers.  Expanding the funding for this program is essential to serving our next generation.

The Conference appreciates your consideration and urges you to support Senate Bill 373.  

HB 1685: Maryland Prenatal and Infant Care Coordination Services Grant Program (Thrive by Three Fund)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

House Bill 1685 establishes the Maryland Prenatal and Infant Care Coordination Services Grant, tasked with providing grant money to counties and municipalities to use in the assistance of low-income pregnant and postpartum women and children from birth to age three.   

The Catholic Church has a strong interest in eliminating poverty and providing supports for women as they move through pregnancy and raise young children.  Mothers are the foundations of families when they bring life into this world.  Low-income mothers and families who face the struggles of poverty are particularly vulnerable, and the Church has a priority in protecting women in this position.

Providing funding for services that assist low-income women and young children who are likely to be more vulnerable should be an important priority for state and local governments.  Low-income women who might not otherwise be able to afford pre- and post-natal care could potentially face adverse health effects, and raising an infant and young child after results in compounding issues.  Looking into the future, those children may face difficulties as they enter their school years and beyond, in addition to any difficulties they already may be up against growing up in a low-income environment.  The Conference supports legislation such as this that provides any funding aimed to prevent hardships for low-income mothers and young children. 

The Conference appreciates your consideration and, for these reasons, urges a favorable report on House Bill 1685.  

SB 550: Maryland Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Program – Death of a Designated Beneficiary (House)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of Senate Bill 550.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.
 
SB 550 authorizes money and assets in an ABLE account to be transferred, on the death of a designated beneficiary, to a certain estate or a certain ABLE account for an eligible individual, unless prohibited by federal law. The bill also prohibits the State, unless required by federal law, from seeking payment from an ABLE account or its proceeds for certain medical assistance benefits paid for the designated beneficiary.

Since this past fall, participants in The Maryland Achieving a Better Life (ABLE) Program have been able to establish and manage accounts in order to promote financial savings to be utilized in support of individuals with disabilities.  Funds saved through the Maryland ABLE Program are designated for the purposes of maintaining health, independence, and quality of life for those eligible for the accounts.  

The Maryland Catholic Conference supports SB 550 because it intersects with the Church’s obligation to care for those with disabilities.  The Church calls for the defense of policies “that enable individuals with disabilities... to achieve the fullest measure of personal development possible”, and foster the creation of a stronger and more integrated support system.  SB 550 will prohibit the State from seeking payment from a Maryland Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account or its proceeds while the deceased participant has a surviving spouse, children, or a disabled son or daughter, or in cases where substantial hardship will result. This legislation will assist families in saving for basic support services and necessities for family members with disabilities.  We are in strong support of enabling persons with disabilities and their families to achieve the fullest measure of personal development possible.
 
It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference urges a favorable report for SB 550.  Thank you for your consideration.

SB 647: Earned Income Tax Credit – Individuals Without Qualifying Children – Repeal of Minimum Age Requirement (House)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

Senate Bill 647 changes the percentage of the federal earned income credit used for determining the amount that specified individuals may claim as a refund under the Maryland earned income credit under specified circumstances. The bill also alters the calculation of the Maryland earned income tax credit to allow specified individuals without qualifying children to claim an increased credit and would be applicable to taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017.

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a successful anti-poverty tool that provides a meaningful boost to low-income workers and families, enabling them to make necessary purchases, such as making a major home repair, and take care of basic needs. A federal EITC was enacted in the mid-1970s to provide a tax credit to low-income working families to offset taxes and to reward work. The Conference was a lead advocate for having a state EITC when Maryland enacted it in 1987, setting it at 50 percent of the federal credit. The proposed legislation would expand the EITC for single workers without dependents by eliminating the requirement that a taxpayer be a certain age to claim the credit. While providing a direct benefit to more Marylanders, the EITC is a boost to local economies since every $1 that is invested in the EITC generates $1.24 for the economy.

Pope Francis said, Without a solution to the problems of the poor, we will not solve the problems of the world. We need projects, mechanisms and processes to implement better distribution of resources, from the creation of new jobs to the integral promotion of those who are excluded.

The EITC is a successful mechanism that improves the distribution of resources, and this expansion of the EITC is a solution that includes workers who are currently excluded from this credit. 

The Conference appreciates your consideration and urges a favorable report on Senate Bill 647.  

SB 33: Health Insurance – Coverage for Fertility Awareness-Based Methods (House)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of Senate Bill 33.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch) dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

SB 33 requires an insurer, nonprofit health service plan, or health maintenance organization that provides hospital, medical, or surgical benefits to provide coverage for instruction by a health care practitioner on “fertility awareness-based methods.” With the exception of a grandfathered health plan, a carrier may not apply a copayment, coinsurance requirement, or deductible for this coverage. The bill applies to all policies, contracts, and health benefit plans issued, delivered, or renewed in the State on or after January 1, 2019.

Fertility awareness-based contraception, including Natural Family Planning (NFP), is an umbrella term for certain methods used to achieve and avoid pregnancies. These methods are based on observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of a woman’s fertile and infertile phases, without the use of drugs, devices, or surgical procedures to prevent pregnancy.

The Maryland Catholic Conference supports SB 33 because it ensures open access to fertility awareness-based contraceptive counseling, consistent with the open access to drug and device-based contraception that is already ensured under federal and state law.  Passage of this bill allows women who seek to make an informed decision regarding which contraception method she will utilize to have full and open access to all methods, including drug- and device- free options.

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges a favorable report for SB 33.  Thank you for your consideration.

SB 1231: Human Services – Temporary Disability Assistance Program

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

Senate Bill 1231 would codify the existing Temporary Disability Assistance Program (TDAP) at a percentage of Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA), eventually reaching equality in the maximum monthly allowable assistance between the two programs.  It currently only exists as an agency regulation, which subjects it to budgetary fluctuations and political whims. 

The Church teaches that the state has a moral obligation to have a budget that reflects a preferential care and love for the poor and vulnerable. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that “it is the proper function of authority to arbitrate, in the name of the common good, between various particular interests; but it should make accessible to each what is needed to lead a truly human life: food, clothing, health, work, education and culture” (no. 1908).

The Conference frequently advocates for the protection of social safety net programs included in the state budget to promote the common good in Maryland.  Given the budget challenges for this year and the coming years, it is especially important to evaluate how current funding is or is not meeting the needs of all programs and how they grow in its capacity to assist Marylanders. Without adequate funding for programs and grants TDAP, vulnerable Marylanders will face additional obstacles to self-sufficiency due to their inability to meet their basic needs.  Codifying TDAP will allow the program to be stabilized and grow proportional to the needs of its recipients.  

For these reasons, the Conference appreciates your consideration and urges a favorable report on Senate Bill 1231.  

HB 96: Income Tax – Subtraction Modification – Living Organ Donors (Senate)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 96.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch) dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

HB 96 creates a subtraction modification against the State income tax for up to $7,500 of the qualified expenses incurred by a living organ donor, including the unreimbursed travel and lodging expenses and lost wages that are attributable to the organ donation.  

The Maryland Catholic Conference supports HB 96 as a way to remove any financial barriers that may prevent someone from becoming a living organ donor. (The Catholic Church does not support living donation for economic advantages which accrue to the donor.)  Pope Francis has described the act of living organ donation as a “testimony of love for our neighbor”, and such actions can help build a culture of life, a culture in which life is cherished. For this reason, the Catholic Church  welcomes initiatives such as the one created by HB 96, which encourages people to think of serving others in this way, as a form of Christian charity.

Not only does the Church condone organ transplantation, it also recognizes donation as a great act of charity and love. Pope St. John Paul II also stated, “The Catholic Church promotes the fact that there is a need for organ donors and that Christians should accept this as a challenge to their generosity and fraternal love. One of the most powerful ways for individuals to demonstrate love for their neighbor is by making the informed decision to be an organ donor.”

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges a favorable report for HB 96.  Thank you for your consideration.

HB 249: Health Insurance – Coverage for Fertility Awareness-Based Methods (Senate)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 249.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch) dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

HB 249 requires an insurer, nonprofit health service plan, or health maintenance organization that provides hospital, medical, or surgical benefits to provide coverage for instruction by a health care practitioner on “fertility awareness-based methods.” With the exception of a grandfathered health plan, a carrier may not apply a copayment, coinsurance requirement, or deductible for this coverage. The bill applies to all policies, contracts, and health benefit plans issued, delivered, or renewed in the State on or after January 1, 2019.

Fertility awareness-based contraception, including Natural Family Planning (NFP), is an umbrella term for certain methods used to achieve and avoid pregnancies. These methods are based on observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of a woman’s fertile and infertile phases, without the use of drugs, devices, or surgical procedures to prevent pregnancy.

The Maryland Catholic Conference supports HB 249 because it ensures open access to fertility awareness-based contraceptive counseling, consistent with the open access to drug and device-based contraception that is already ensured under federal and state law.  Passage of this bill allows women who seek to make an informed decision regarding which contraception method she will utilize to have full and open access to all methods, including drug- and device- free options.

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges a favorable report for HB 249.  Thank you for your consideration.

SB 402: Education - Family Life and Human Sexuality Curriculum - Boundaries and Consent (House)

Position: SUPPORT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  We offer this testimony in support of the concept of Senate Bill 402.
 
Senate Bill 402 would require county boards to include age-appropriate instruction on the meaning of consent and respect for personal boundaries as part of the family life and human sexuality curriculum in every grade in which the curriculum is taught in public schools.
 
While the bill does not specifically apply to nonpublic schools, it is important to note that all Catholic parishes, diocesan schools and youth programs provide comprehensive awareness training to educate adults and children on how to recognize inappropriate and predatory behaviors that could lead to sexual abuse, including training on violations of personal boundaries.  
 
As a result, the Conference enthusiastically supported House Bill 72, Erin’s Law, which passed in 2016 requiring all public and certain nonpublic schools in include sexual abuse prevention training in their health curriculum.  The Maryland Catholic Conference and representatives from the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Archdiocese of Washington have participated in a workgroup to implement House Bill 72, and as noted in the fiscal note for Senate Bill 402, the health education framework developed by the workgroup includes performance indicators related to consent and setting personal boundaries.
 
While we therefore do not think enactment of Senate Bill 402 is necessary, we offer this statement in demonstration of our commitment to the goal of the bill.

SB 132: Child Abuse and Neglect – Failure to Report (House)

Position: SUPPORT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  We offer this testimony in support of Senate Bill 132.
 
Senate Bill 132 would impose a misdemeanor penalty of a fine not exceeding $1,000, or imprisonment not exceeding six months or both, on an individual required to report suspected child abuse for failing to report an incident of child abuse if the person had actual knowledge of the abuse.  Senate Bill 132 is an important measure for ensuring that mandated reporters take seriously their obligation to report abuse, most especially when they are aware of a clear instance of abuse.
 
Like many other institutions serving children, all Catholic parishes, diocesan schools and youth programs observe stringent child protection measures.  Our institutions conduct mandatory criminal background checks on all employees and on volunteers who work with children, provide comprehensive awareness training to educate adults and children on how to recognize predatory behaviors, and promptly report all suspected incidents of child sexual abuse.  
 
Senate Bill 132 is an important measure to help ensure the immediate reporting of instances of known child abuse, so that children in these situations can quickly receive the protection and services needed to at a minimum remove them from further harm.  Failing to report such instances – and thereby leaving a child in harm’s way – certainly warrants the penalties imposed by Senate Bill 132.
 
For these reasons, we urge a favorable report on Senate Bill 132.

SB 528: Hate Crimes Group Victim (House)

Position: SUPPORT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  We offer this testimony in support of Senate Bill 528.
 
Senate Bill 528 would amend our state’s current hate crimes law to clarify that it applies to an act or an attempt to harm a person or group or their property because of the person’s or group’s race, color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, or national origin, or because a person is homeless.  
 
At a time when our society is increasingly marred by incidents of intolerance both locally and nationally, it is critical that our communities take a strong and united stance against such acts.  In response to the increase of such incidents, both the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Bishops of Maryland have created committees to address the sin of racism and to develop concrete action plans to address the issue in our Church and in society.  As Archbishop Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore noted when announcing the creation of a Racism Task Force in Maryland, “The dreadful spectacle of violence and racism displayed in Charlottesville by various white supremacist groups is a shocking reminder of how much work still needs to be done to eradicate the sin of racism in our country, our state, and our local communities.”
 
We believe Senate Bill 528 strengthens existing law and offers an important signal that threatening to harm a person or group or their property simply because of their identity is inimical to the peace and fraternity that we should all strive for in our diverse society.
 
For these reasons, we urge a favorable report on Senate Bill 528.

SB 598: Correctional Services – Inmates – Menstrual Hygiene Products (House)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of Senate Bill 598.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch) dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

SB 598 ensures that the correctional facilities in the Department of Corrections (DOC) have a sufficient supply of menstrual hygiene products available to meet the needs of the inmate population at all times.  Each facility must have a written policy and procedure in place requiring menstrual hygiene products to be provided at no cost to female inmates. 

In many correctional facilities across the nation, simple feminine hygiene supplies including pads and tampons can become bargaining chips, used to maintain control by correction officers, or traded among incarcerated women, according to former inmates and advocates on the issue. Subjecting women to a woeful shortage of basic hygiene products can lead to mental health concerns, diminished overall physical health, and strip women of human dignity and self-worth.

When visiting with inmates at a Philadelphia, PA prison in 2015, Pope Francis told them, “This time in your life can only have one purpose: to give you a hand in getting back on the right road, to give you a hand to help you rejoin society. All of us are part of that effort, all of us are invited to encourage, help and enable your rehabilitation. A rehabilitation which everyone seeks and desires: inmates and their families, correctional authorities, social and educational programs. A rehabilitation which benefits and elevates the morale of the entire community.”  Through the passage of SB 598, Maryland can elevate the morale and well-being of the incarcerated women in the state, providing them the most basic of needs and restoring their human dignity.

It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference respectfully urges a favorable report for SB 598.  Thank you for your consideration.

HB 113: Public Safety – Baltimore City Safe Streets Initiatives – Funding (The Tyrone Ray Safe Streets Act) (Senate)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

As defined in the legislation, A Safe Streets Initiative is a violence prevention or intervention program operated by a community-based organization in a neighborhood that is disproportionately affected by violent crime.  House Bill 113 requires the Governor to include $3.6 million in his budget each year, allocated to Baltimore City for the disbursement of grants to relevant organizations who meet matching fund requirements.  

The Catholic Church has a strong interest in public safety and keeping communities safe.  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states that “[w]e must confront this growing culture of violence with a commitment to life, a vision of hope and a call to action.”  Strict criminal justice laws, including mandatory sentencing and aggressive policing, have proven ineffective in curbing rising violence in Baltimore City and around the state.  A different approach needs to be taken to alleviate the symptoms that cause violence, including poverty, lack of economic opportunity, and inadequate education.  Safe Streets Initiative programs offer an innovative approach to tackling these societal issues, and allow community members to work within themselves to improve their own communities.  Often the communities that are suffering with extreme levels of violence are also lower income areas; shifting the focus from being constantly on the defensive against violence to preventing what might cause the violence to occur in the first place is an important change in also alleviating poverty in these communities.  

The Conference appreciates your consideration and, for these reasons, urges a favorable report on House Bill 113.  

HB 431: Foster Care Recipients and Unaccompanied Homeless Youth - Employment Program (Fostering Employment Act of 2018) (Senate)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of the House Bill 431.  The Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

House Bill 431 would require the development of a program to provide job training opportunities to foster care recipients and unaccompanied homeless youth.  Currently, foster care recipients and unaccompanied homeless youth are eligible to receive tuition waivers at public higher education institutions.  However, not all qualify for the tuition waivers, particularly when a youth is participating in a registered apprenticeship or other job training program that is not associated or currently partnering with an institution of higher education.  This bill would allow for an expansion of benefits to foster care recipients and unaccompanied homeless youth by establishing a “Fostering Employment Program”, which would allow those young people to obtain credentials that would render them job-ready.  Lastly, it is important to note that this program can be implemented with little or no cost to the state, through leveraging existing federal funding. 

Often, foster care recipients and unaccompanied homeless youth face significant financial challenges.  Laudably, the State of Maryland has taken recent steps to provide these youth an opportunity for a tuition-exempt education, which provides them a path to financial independence.  However, higher education is not always either a feasible or proper fit for every youth.  House Bill 431 would ensure that those who seek apprenticeship or job training are not left out and are given the same opportunities as their counterparts to advance both educationally and economically. 

Pope Francis has routinely stressed the importance of providing such opportunities for those of limited means, which includes “education, …and above all employment, for it is through free, creative, participatory and mutually supportive labor that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives.”  (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 192). 

House Bill 431 will assist in providing both knowledge and skill, with an aim toward eventually gainful employment, to youth who might otherwise face serious obstacles to obtaining those things.  It is for these reasons that we urge a favorable report for House Bill 431.      

HB 782: Maryland Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Program – Death of a Designated Beneficiary (Senate)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 782.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.
 
HB 782 authorizes money and assets in an ABLE account to be transferred, on the death of a designated beneficiary, to a certain estate or a certain ABLE account for an eligible individual, unless prohibited by federal law. The bill also prohibits the State, unless required by federal law, from seeking payment from an ABLE account or its proceeds for certain medical assistance benefits paid for the designated beneficiary.

Since this past fall, participants in The Maryland Achieving a Better Life (ABLE) Program have been able to establish and manage accounts in order to promote financial savings to be utilized in support of individuals with disabilities.  Funds saved through the Maryland ABLE Program are designated for the purposes of maintaining health, independence, and quality of life for those eligible for the accounts.  

The Maryland Catholic Conference supports HB 782 because it intersects with the Church’s obligation to care for those with disabilities.  The Church calls for the defense of policies “that enable individuals with disabilities... to achieve the fullest measure of personal development possible”, and foster the creation of a stronger and more integrated support system.  HB 782 will prohibit the State from seeking payment from a Maryland Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account or its proceeds while the deceased participant has a surviving spouse, children, or a disabled son or daughter, or in cases where substantial hardship will result. This legislation will assist families in saving for basic support services and necessities for family members with disabilities.  We are in strong support of enabling persons with disabilities and their families to achieve the fullest measure of personal development possible.
 
It is for these reasons that the Maryland Catholic Conference urges a favorable report for HB 782.  Thank you for your consideration.

HB 856: Earned Income Tax Credit – Individuals Without Qualifying Children – Repeal of Minimum Age Requirement (Senate)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

House Bill 856 changes the percentage of the federal earned income credit used for determining the amount that specified individuals may claim as a refund under the Maryland earned income credit under specified circumstances. The bill also alters the calculation of the Maryland earned income tax credit to allow specified individuals without qualifying children to claim an increased credit and would be applicable to taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017.

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a successful anti-poverty tool that provides a meaningful boost to low-income workers and families, enabling them to make necessary purchases, such as making a major home repair, and take care of basic needs. A federal EITC was enacted in the mid-1970s to provide a tax credit to low-income working families to offset taxes and to reward work. The Conference was a lead advocate for having a state EITC when Maryland enacted it in 1987, setting it at 50 percent of the federal credit. The proposed legislation would lowing the eligibility age for single workers without dependents to claim the EITC to 21 from 25. While providing a direct benefit to more Marylanders, the EITC is a boost to local economies since every $1 that is invested in the EITC generates $1.24 for the economy.

Pope Francis said, Without a solution to the problems of the poor, we will not solve the problems of the world. We need projects, mechanisms and processes to implement better distribution of resources, from the creation of new jobs to the integral promotion of those who are excluded.

The EITC is a successful mechanism that improves the distribution of resources, and this expansion of the EITC is a solution that includes workers who are currently excluded from this credit. 

The Conference appreciates your consideration and urges a favorable report on House Bill 856.  

SB 379: Education – Child Care Subsidies – Mandatory Funding Levels (House)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

Currently, funding levels for the Child Care Subsidy Program only cover ten percent of the community’s child care options.  Federal guidelines suggest the subsidies should open up seventy-five percent of the options; in this regard, Maryland falls woefully behind.  The Governor’s budget for this important program decreased by $10.1 million in FY19.   An increase in funding beyond what is currently budgeted for FY19 will increase the child care service options available to parents, most importantly those in low-income communities.  

The Catholic Church has a strong interest in alleviating poverty.  Providing working low-income parents with child care services is a significant way to ease the burden of poverty.  Often, a barrier to sustainable and full-time employment is the availability and affordability of reliable child care services.  The Child Care Subsidy Program aims to remove those barriers by increasing access to child care services for low-income parents and making it more affordable, thus providing more equal access to child care services for low-income Marylanders.  It’s also expected to assist child care providers who serve low-income communities by allowing for more stable payments by clients.  In creating such stability, it’s anticipated that the quality of child care in low-income communities will increase.  

The Conference appreciates your consideration and urges you to support Senate Bill 379.  

HB 315: State Department of Education – Breakfast and Lunch Program – Funding (Maryland Cares for Kids Act) (Senate)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in support of House Bill 315.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.  

House Bill 315 would allow reduced-meal-eligible students to received breakfast and lunch entirely free under the Federal School Breakfast Program and the National School Lunch Program.  The bill would allow the State to subsidize the reduced-meal-eligible student share of the costs of reduced-priced meals.  Currently, there are approximately 45,000 reduced-meals students in public schools (not including students in schools that participate in the Community Eligibility Provision).

Although Maryland is the wealthiest state in the country, one in eight households in Maryland face constant food insecurity. Sadly, children and adolescents are not exempt from that statistic. School breakfast and lunch programs are essential to not only ending hunger, but for improving the health and educational outcomes of students who live with food insecurity.

Additionally, nonpublic schools serve free and reduced lunch to thousands of low-income students daily.  The vast majority of those schools participating in the free feeding programs are Catholic schools.  As part of the “State Free Feeding Program”, Maryland Education Article 7-605 reiterates that the General Assembly finds it “desirable” that “Private organizations and corporations should be encouraged to participate in the program”.  “Private organizations and corporations” include Catholic, Jewish and other nonpublic schools, agencies such as the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services and other county correctional facilities, various children’s homes, the Maryland School for the Deaf, Associated Catholic Charities, and the Kennedy Krieger Institute.  According to MSDE, among those students served free or reduced breakfast and lunch through the federal programs, “private organizations and corporations” are serving 4,167 free meals-eligible students and 619 reduced meals-eligible students.  

House Bill 315, as amended, would ensure that ALL students in the State of Maryland who are FARMs-eligible and attend participating schools access to completely free breakfast and lunch under the federal programs.  It is for this reason that the Maryland Catholic Conference asks for a favorable report for House Bill 315.  Thank you for your consideration.

HB 430: Education – Child Care Subsidies – Mandatory Funding Levels (Senate)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

Currently, funding levels for the Child Care Subsidy Program only cover ten percent of the community’s child care options.  Federal guidelines suggest the subsidies should open up seventy-five percent of the options; in this regard, Maryland falls woefully behind.  The Governor’s budget for this important program decreased by $10.1 million in FY19.   An increase in funding beyond what is currently budgeted for FY19 will increase the child care service options available to parents, most importantly those in low-income communities.  

The Catholic Church has a strong interest in alleviating poverty.  Providing working low-income parents with child care services is a significant way to ease the burden of poverty.  Often, a barrier to sustainable and full-time employment is the availability and affordability of reliable child care services.  The Child Care Subsidy Program aims to remove those barriers by increasing access to child care services for low-income parents and making it more affordable, thus providing more equal access to child care services for low-income Marylanders.  It’s also expected to assist child care providers who serve low-income communities by allowing for more stable payments by clients.  In creating such stability, it’s anticipated that the quality of child care in low-income communities will increase.  

The Conference appreciates your consideration and urges you to support House Bill 430.  

HB 671: Income Tax – Subtraction Modification – Classroom Supplies Purchased by Teachers (Senate)

Position: SUPPORT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 671.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.  We also offer this testimony on behalf of the teachers who educate more than 50,000 students served by over 150 PreK-12 Catholic schools in Maryland.
 
We offer our support for House Bill 671, which would allow full-time kindergarten through grade 12 classroom teachers to subtract up to $250 from their state income tax liability for unreimbursed personal expenditures for classroom supplies used by students or for teaching preparation materials.  This deduction would mirror the current allowable federal tax deduction of $250.  
 
 Countless Catholic and other nonpublic school teachers are state certified or have advanced degrees, but often sacrifice the higher-pay enjoyed by their public school counterparts in order to teach at their respective schools.  Therefore, every bit of help provided to these dedicated educators goes a long way.  Teachers should not have to shoulder the entire burden of expenses for educational materials that improve student learning experiences, particularly where their school cannot afford to reimburse for such expenses.     
 
Particularly in the lowest-income schools were students traditionally face challenges to being materially prepared, House Bill 671 will assist teachers to enhance the learning experience of the students who need it most.  As Maryland’s Catholic schools educate tens of thousands of lower and middle-income students every year, the Maryland Catholic Conference offers its support for House Bill 671 as a means of assisting those who educate those students.  We thus encourage your support and a favorable report for House Bill 671.

HB 1072: Education - Child Sexual Abuse Prevention - Instruction and Training (Senate)

Position: SUPPORT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  We offer this testimony in support of House Bill 1072.
 
House Bill 1072 would require a county board or nonpublic school that receives state funds to provide each employee, to receive instruction annually on the prevention, identification, and reporting of child sexual abuse. House Bill 1072 is an important measure for ensuring that mandated reporters fully understand their obligation, and importantly, also receive training in how to recognize abuse in the first place.
 
Like many other institutions serving children, all Catholic parishes, diocesan schools and youth programs observe stringent child protection measures.  Our institutions conduct mandatory criminal background checks on all employees and on volunteers who work with children, provide comprehensive awareness training to educate adults and children on how to recognize predatory behaviors, and promptly report all suspected incidents of child sexual abuse.  
 
It has been our experience that the required training provided to all professionals in our institutions has significantly increased our ability to protect children, and to immediately address instances of suspected abuse.
 
For these reasons, we urge a favorable report on House Bill 1072.

HB 1136: County Boards of Education - Student Hearing and Vision Screenings – Reporting Requirements (Senate)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this supporting testimony for House Bill 1136.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders and nearly 50,000 students served by more than 150 PreK-12 Catholic schools.  

House Bill 1136 would place requirements on county boards or health departments to report to the Maryland Department of Health on the number of students who did not receive recommended services after failing a vision or hearing screening.  Counties would also be required to provide the reason that each student did not receive the recommended services.  Lastly, each county would be responsible for formulating a written strategy with quantifiable goals to increase the number of students receiving recommended services.

Currently, each county board or health department is required to provide vision and hearing screenings for all students in public schools.  Furthermore, county health departments are required to provide and fund hearing and vision screenings for certain nonpublic and special education schools.  As it currently stands, there are times when eligible nonpublic school students do not even receive the screenings to which they are entitled under current law.  House Bill 1136 may help provide accountability for the requisite screenings.  Moreover, it could help provide the same accountability for the provision of services at public schools.

The health and safety of children is paramount to ensuring the success of future generations of Marylanders. The Catholic Conference thus urges this committee to report favorably on House Bill 1136 in support of all children entitled to vision and hearing screenings, regardless of where they attend school.

HB 1571: Education – Child Sexual Abuse Prevention – Employment Process (Senate)

Position: SUPPORT WITH AMENDMENT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  We offer this testimony in support of the concept of House Bill 1571, but with the request that several aspects of the bill be amended in order to ensure that nonpublic schools are able to comply with the requirements of the bill.
 
House Bill 1571, as amended by the House, puts into a place a process for public and certain nonpublic schools to determine whether prospective employees who have direct contact with minors have ever been disciplined for allegations of “child sexual abuse” or “sexual  misconduct.”  Importantly, the bill broadens the screening of applicants to include past history of conduct that may not be revealed through the criminal background checks that all schools are currently required to perform.
 
Like many other institutions serving children, all Catholic parishes, diocesan schools and youth programs observe stringent child protection measures.  Our institutions conduct mandatory criminal background checks on all employees and on volunteers who work with children, provide comprehensive awareness training to educate adults and children on how to recognize predatory behaviors, and promptly report all suspected incidents of child sexual abuse.  The intent of House Bill 1571 is consistent with these procedures, and, with certain amendments to address several logistical concerns, we believe House Bill 1571 would enhance the ability of our schools to protect the children in our care.
 
As currently amended, however, House Bill 1571 requires nonpublic schools to “check the eligibility for employment or certification status” of prospective employees without specifying exactly what information a nonpublic school is required to check to determine “eligibility for employment,” and without indicating where nonpublic schools would be able to access this information.  Further, since many nonpublic schools do not require teachers to be certified, it is not clear how or why they would need to check the certification status of a prospective employee.   
 
It is our understanding that public schools currently have access to background information on prospective employees by obtaining information via the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) through a certain national database.  In order to provide nonpublic schools the ability to comply with the requirements of the bill, we believe the bill should be amended to make clear that MSDE must also provide nonpublic schools the same information available through this database about prospective employees. 
 
Finally, we believe the bill should include an immunity provision protecting all schools from liability due to the failure of a past employer or prospective employee to provide the relevant information required in the screening process established by House Bill 1571.  
 
With the aforementioned changes to the bill, we respectfully urge a favorable report on House Bill 1571.

HB 1607: Education – Juvenile Services Education Programs – Management and Operation (Senate)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of House Bill 1607.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

House Bill 1607 would create a pilot program for the operation of juvenile services education programs by the county board of education for the county in which the facility is located.  The pilot program provisions would ensure that youth housed in Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) facilities were provided adequate educational programs, commensurate with other students in the county.  It would also ensure proper and sufficient staffing of teachers and other personnel, which is a common shortfall of the current dynamic of education programs at DJS facilities.  

In its pastoral statement “Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice” (USCCB, 2000), the United States conference of Catholic Bishops cited the “absence of educational opportunities” among considerations “contributing to a high rate of recidivism”. The USCCB also cited “education” as one of the key “necessities that enable inmates to live in dignity”. 

The Maryland Catholic Conference has routinely taken positions against juveniles being held in adult jails due to the challenges associated with protecting such a young and vulnerable population. Some measures have been taken to strengthen protections for detained youth in recent years, signaling a movement in the right direction.  In the same vein, our state must be vigilant about ignoring the vulnerability of youth who are held in juvenile facilities. Several questions have arisen in recent years regarding the sufficiency and efficacy of education programs in our juvenile facilities. House Bill 1607 provides an innovative idea for addressing shortcomings in our juvenile education system through a different governance model.  

The Church maintains that systems of incarceration should be centered around restorative justice. With regard to youthful offenders, our state’s duty to ensure the same is significantly amplified. When youth are denied their constitutionally guaranteed right to an education, their chances to break free from their often challenging circumstances and live productive, fruitful adulthoods are greatly diminished.  For these reasons, we urge a favorable report on HB 1607.

HB 1613: Appointment or Designation of Standby Guardian – Adverse Immigration Action (Senate)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

House Bill 1613 enables a parent subject to a removal process out of the United States to designate a standby guardian for his or her minor child, if that were to occur within two years.

The Catholic Church has a strong interest in supporting immigration policies that preserves family unity and the creation of strong, safe communities.  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops opines that “[e]ven in the case of less urgent migrations, a developed nation's right to limit immigration must be based on justice, mercy, and the common good, not on self-interest.  Moreover, immigration policy ought to take into account other important values such as the right of families to live together.  A merciful immigration policy will not force married couples or children to live separated from their families for long periods.”  

Unfortunately, it appears that there are fluid and continually fluctuating immigration enforcement and removal policies in practice in Maryland, flowing from unclear regulations at the federal level.  This includes undocumented parents of children born in the U.S. facing removal proceedings and being deported, leaving significant numbers of citizen children stuck with an impossible decision to leave the U.S. with their parents or stay here without them.  Allowing parents a legal avenue to make a guardianship decision for their children up to two years prior to deportation provides at least some comfort when facing such an impossible decision.  In giving them a say in advance, they can at least minimally maintain a family structure for their children in the event they are not able to be present.

The Conference appreciates your consideration and, for these reasons, urges a favorable report on House Bill 1613.  

HB 1630: Higher Education - James Proctor Scholarship Program (Senate)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public-policy interests of the three Catholic (arch)dioceses serving the state of Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  It is our great pleasure to offer this testimony in support of House Bill 1630.

House Bill 1630 would honor one of the Conference’s most beloved members of the Maryland General Assembly by establishing the James Proctor Scholarship Program at historically black colleges and universities.  This honor appropriately commemorates Delegate Proctor’s passion for ensuring every young person in Maryland has access to excellent and affordable educational opportunities, especially young men and women of color.  The lives and future success of the deserving students who would be the recipients of this scholarship would provide a fitting witness to the legacy that Delegate Proctor worked for so many years to achieve.  It is a fitting tribute to a man of integrity and humility who worked tirelessly to benefit his community and to uphold the values that reflect his deeply-held faith in God, his state and country, and the dignity of all persons.

The Catholic Church in Maryland is indebted to Delegate Proctor for the countless ways he embraced and defended many of the causes promoted by the Church during his years in the General Assembly.  We join the sponsors of House Bill 1630 in conveying our appreciation for Delegate Proctor’s tenure in the General Assembly by enthusiastically supporting this commemoration of his service.  

We urge the committee to do so as well by giving a favorable report to this worthy measure.

SB 532: Higher Education – Financial Aid – In-State Students (The Jill Wrigley Memorial Scholarship Expansion Act) (House)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

Currently, a student is eligible for an annual financial award for higher education, either undergraduate or two year associate, if he or she is a Maryland resident and has financial need.  Senate Bill 532 would expand this eligibility to any student who is otherwise eligible for in-state tuition.

The consequences of this expansion are to include students who are receiving in-state or resident tuition under the Maryland DREAM Act, thereby offering financial assistance to thousands of students who might not otherwise be able to afford higher education.  The DREAM Act already has been successful in making a college education possible for many immigrant Marylanders.  By making a college education more accessible and affordable to Maryland youth, we are able to provide them with greater opportunities –opportunities for higher education, to acquire job skills, and to have a better chance of supporting themselves and their families in the future.

A student’s economic disadvantages should not hinder them from achieving higher education.  Leveling the playing field among those who are driven to pursue higher education is imperative for breaking down future socioeconomic barriers in vulnerable populations such as immigrants and non-citizens.  

The Conference appreciates your consideration and, for these reasons, urges you issue a favorable report on Senate Bill 532.  

SB 740: State Department of Education – Breakfast and Lunch Program – Funding (Maryland Cares for Kids Act) (House)

Position: SUPPORT 

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this supporting testimony for Senate Bill 740.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.  

Senate Bill 740 would allow reduced-meal-eligible students to received breakfast and lunch entirely free under the Federal School Breakfast Program and the National School Lunch Program.  The bill would allow the State to subsidize the reduced-meal-eligible student share of the costs of reduced-priced meals.  Currently, there are approximately 45,000 reduced-meals students in public schools (not including students in schools that participate in the Community Eligibility Provision).

Although Maryland is the wealthiest state in the country, one in eight households in Maryland face constant food insecurity. Sadly, children and adolescents are not exempt from that statistic. School breakfast and lunch programs are essential to not only ending hunger, but for improving the health and educational outcomes of students who live with food insecurity.

Additionally, nonpublic schools serve free and reduced lunch to thousands of low-income students daily.  The vast majority of those schools participating in the free feeding programs are Catholic schools.  As part of the “State Free Feeding Program”, Maryland Education Article 7-605 reiterates that the General Assembly finds it “desirable” that “Private organizations and corporations should be encouraged to participate in the program”.  “Private organizations and corporations” include Catholic, Jewish and other nonpublic schools, agencies such as the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services and other county correctional facilities, various children’s homes, the Maryland School for the Deaf, Associated Catholic Charities, and the Kennedy Krieger Institute.  According to MSDE, among those students served free or reduced breakfast and lunch through the federal programs, “private organizations and corporations” are serving 4,167 free meals-eligible students and 619 reduced meals-eligible students.  

Senate Bill 740, as amended, would ensure that ALL students in the State of Maryland who are FARMs-eligible and attend participating schools access to completely free breakfast and lunch under the federal programs.  It is for this reason that the Maryland Catholic Conference asks for a favorable report for Senate Bill 740.  Thank you for your consideration.

SB 818: Education – Maryland Meals for Achievement In–Classroom Breakfast Program – Eligibility and Annual Appropriation (House)

Position: SUPPORT
   
The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of Senate Bill 818.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

 Senate Bill 818 would provide much needed funding for the Maryland Meals for Achievement Program (MMFA), which lends state support to afford schools with greater concentrations of low-income students the ability to provide breakfast to all students, free of charge. Additionally, it would afford participating schools that drop below 40% FARMs-eligible students a one-year grace period.  If that school were to rise above 40% in the following year, this provision would ensure that they remain in the program.  In doing so, continuity in feeding low-income students would be ensured.  This continuity would also provide participating low-income families with the ability to plan their budgets accordingly were their school to loose eligibility for MMFA.


Although Maryland is the wealthiest state in the country, one in eight households in Maryland face constant food insecurity. Sadly, children and adolescents are not exempt from that statistic. School breakfast and lunch programs are essential to not only ending hunger, but for improving the health and educational outcomes of students who live with food insecurity.  
 
Pope Francis has been very outspoken about the epidemic of food insecurity in our world.  He recently stated, “I invite you to make space in your heart for this emergency of respecting the God-given rights of everyone to have access to adequate food. We share what we have in Christian charity with those who face numerous obstacles to satisfy such a basic need.”  He also invited “all of the institutions of the world, the Church, each of us, as one single human family, to give a voice to all of those who suffer silently from hunger, so that this voice becomes a roar which can shake the world.”  (Message for The Campaign Against Global Hunger, December, 2013)

Multiple Maryland Catholic schools serve hundreds of breakfasts every day to their students through the MMFA program.  Our school community recognizes the important role that breakfast plays in sustaining students throughout the day and maximizing their learning potential.  Nutrition programs such as MMFA assist in Catholic schools’ goal of addressing the needs of the whole child and are an important resource for students whose families are unable to provide them enough to eat.  

For all of the reasons stated herein, we support the effort to expand and insure the MMFA program presented through Senate Bill 818 and we request a favorable report.  

HB 994: Maryland Medical Assistance Program – Family Planning Services (Senate)

Position: OPPOSE

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in OPPOSITION to House Bill 994.  The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch) dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

HB 994 requires the Maryland Department of Health (MDH) to apply for a State Plan Amendment to expand the Medicaid Family Planning Waiver Program. Medicaid and the Maryland Children’s Health Program (MCHP) must provide coverage for a single dispensing to an enrollee of a 12-month supply of prescription contraceptives. The State Plan Amendment must (1) provide family planning services to men and women with incomes at or below 250% of federal poverty guidelines (FPG); (2) not impose age limitations on individuals who are able to receive family planning services; (3) establish a presumptive eligibility process for enrollment in the Family Planning Program; and (4) exempt the program from federal coordination of benefits requirements, if authorized under federal law.

While the intent of this legislation is apparently to perpetuate existing practice, the Church has historically opposed government-funded programs that provide contraception to minors, and we remain opposed.  At a minimum, we believe the State Plan Amendment should contain a provision explicitly mandating that the program include abstinence-based instruction, using methods that are proven effective through evidence-based research.
We believe also that the State Plan Amendment should include an explicit requirement that, unless a domestic situation warrants otherwise, parents or guardians must be notified and give permission for the provision of contraception to minor children in their care.

Because of the overall goal of the bill, and its omission of the aforementioned provisions, we respectfully urge an unfavorable report on HB 994. Thank you for your consideration.

HB 1615: Human Services – Temporary Disability Assistance Program (Senate)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

House Bill 1615 would codify the existing Temporary Disability Assistance Program (TDAP) at a percentage of Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA), eventually reaching equality in the maximum monthly allowable assistance between the two programs.  It currently only exists as an agency regulation, which subjects it to budgetary fluctuations and political whims. 

The Church teaches that the state has a moral obligation to have a budget that reflects a preferential care and love for the poor and vulnerable. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that “it is the proper function of authority to arbitrate, in the name of the common good, between various particular interests; but it should make accessible to each what is needed to lead a truly human life: food, clothing, health, work, education and culture” (no. 1908).

The Conference frequently advocates for the protection of social safety net programs included in the state budget to promote the common good in Maryland.  Given the budget challenges for this year and the coming years, it is especially important to evaluate how current funding is or is not meeting the needs of all programs and how they grow in its capacity to assist Marylanders. Without adequate funding for programs and grants TDAP, vulnerable Marylanders will face additional obstacles to self-sufficiency due to their inability to meet their basic needs.  Codifying TDAP will allow the program to be stabilized and grow proportional to the needs of its recipients.  

For these reasons, the Conference appreciates your consideration and urges a favorable report on House Bill 1615.  

HB 1626: Public Information Act – Motor Vehicle Administration – Warrant or Subpoena for Personal Information

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

House Bill 1626 provides that the Motor Vehicle Administration may not disclose an individual’s personal information to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) without a judicial warrant or subpoena.

The Catholic Church has historically held a strong interest in immigration and how public policy affects immigrants seeking a new life in the United States.  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supports comprehensive immigration reform.  However, in the absence of such reform, immigration law enforcement can neither cease completely nor continue unabated in its current status.  There has to be greater clarity in the roles of local, state, and federal law enforcement in immigration enforcement and detainment.  The Bible guides us in stating that "[y]ou shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt" (Lv 19:33-34).

Without being able to rely on over-reaching and inhumane tactics such as 287(g) programs everywhere in the state, ICE has resorted to attempting to gain information about our undocumented neighbors through agency records.  However and fortunately, because the Motor Vehicle Administration is a state agency, Maryland can and should regulate access to the private information it stores.  Further, because Maryland allows undocumented individuals to obtain drivers licenses, it has a duty to protect their personal information as well.  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops stresses how in situations like this, “[t]he native [should] not have superior rights over the immigrant.  Before God all are equal; the earth was given by God to all.”

The Conference appreciates your consideration and, for these reasons, urges a favorable report on House Bill 1626.  

SB 284: Maryland Medical Assistance Program – Dental Coverage for Adults – Pilot Program (House)

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

Currently, the Maryland Medical Assistance Program provides optional dental coverage for low-income pregnant women, certain former foster care adolescents, and adults enrolled in the Rare and Expensive Case Management Program.  Otherwise, only emergency dental care is available for adults.  Senate Bill 284, as amended, would require the Maryland Department of Health to apply to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for a waiver to implement a pilot program to provide limited dental coverage for adult Medicaid recipients.  

The Catholic Church has a strong interest in ensuring access to quality, affordable, and life-giving health care for all.  As such, the Conference supports expanding access to health care options for those who need it, as every person has a basic right to adequate health care arising from the Church’s teaching on the sanctity and dignity of human life.  

Senate Bill 284 aims to achieve this goal working towards the expansion of Medicaid services in Maryland for qualifying adults to receive dental coverage.  Dental care is an important part of an individual’s overall physical health, and providing it for those who are less likely to be able to afford it is central to maintaining a person’s wellbeing and advancing their health.  It also closes a crucial gap for those who are unable to afford dental services, most often the vulnerable and poverty-stricken in our communities.  Providing even limited dental coverage will not only improve overall health, but also open doors by way of job opportunities and other societal benefits.

The Conference appreciates your consideration and, for these reasons, urges a favorable report on Senate Bill 284.  

SB 621: Real Property - Deletion of Ownership Restrictions Based on Race, Religious Belief, or National Origin (House)

Position: SUPPORT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  We offer this testimony in support of Senate Bill 621.
 
Senate Bill 621 would facilitate the removal of unlawfully restrictive covenants that restrict property ownership on the basis of race, religious belief, or national origin.  Such covenants, while no longer enforceable, represent a painful and offensive reminder of past racist practices and policies, and it is important to eradicate them whenever possible.  
 
At a time when our society is increasingly marred by incidents of intolerance both locally and nationally, it is critical that our communities take a strong and united stance against such acts.  In response to the increase of such incidents, both the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Bishops of Maryland have created committees to address the sin of racism and to develop concrete action plans to address the issue in our Church and in society. 
 
As Archbishop Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore noted in the pastoral letter he released on Ash Wednesday, The Enduring Power of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Principles of Nonviolence, “Weighing heavily on our minds and hearts is the sin of racism that continues, sometimes overtly but often subtly, to insinuate itself in our relationships, institutions and communities of faith, including our own. Indeed, the sin of racism has tarnished the soul of our society for so long that racist attitudes can be deeply embedded in our subconscious, such that we may hardly know they are there. We must bring to light such attitudes and overcome them.’
 
Senate Bill 621 is a step toward that goal, and we urge a favorable report.

SB 670: Family Law - Marriage - Age Requirements (House)

Position: SUPPORT WITH AMENDMENT
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving the state of Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  We offer this testimony in support of Senate Bill 670 as introduced, which would have raised the legal age of marriage to age 18. Although Senate Bill 670 has been amended by the Senate to simply raise the legal age of marriage to 16, we urge the House committee to conform the Senate Bill to the action this committee took on House Bill 191, by at a minimum raising the legal age of marriage to age 17.
 
Like other advocates for the bill, we believe this legislation will provide an important means of preventing the exploitation particularly of young women through human trafficking and coercion by older partners and even family members.  In fact, we can think of no circumstance under which the Church would encourage a person under the age of 17 to marry.
 
Preventing the real life situations of abuse and coercion that proponents of this measure have highlighted provides the most compelling reason to raise the legal age of marriage. Additionally, it is important to consider the potential impact the bill can have on preventing two young persons from entering into a legal commitment without the needed maturity to understand the serious and lifelong impact that their decision to marry carries with it.
 
Given the seriousness of the decision to enter into the enterprise of marriage, it would be expected that an extensive period of thought and reflection be undertaken before two people make this decision, in order to consider thoroughly whether the relationship has the factors needed to be successful and long-lived. For any variety of reasons, it simply is not possible for someone lacking in maturity to enter into marriage as the Catholic Church understands marriage. 
 
Further, the teaching of the Church requires that someone about to enter marriage must decide to do so free of undue influences and outside pressures.  Even in the situation of a couple expecting a child, the Church would likely counsel those under the age of 17 to wait until they were older to decide whether to marry, since the pressure of their situation and their lack of maturity would likely cause their marriage consent to be considered defective or invalid.  The younger people are when approaching marriage, the greater the chance that the relationship and marriage will not last, which is demonstrated by the fact that most of the cases that come before the Church’s marriage tribunal for consideration of an annulment are due to of a lack of discretion of judgment when the couple attempted to marry.
 
Nothing in Senate Bill 670 prevents a young couple genuinely involved in a mature, long-lasting relationship from eventually getting married.  Any couple intent on doing so would only have to wait until they were both 17.  On the other hand, Senate Bill 670 is a critically important measure in preventing the tragedy of young women being coerced or exploited through a marriage imposed on them against their will.  It is also an important measure in preventing young people from mistakenly entering into one of the most serious commitments of their lives, only to later suffer the negative consequences that the break up of that marriage would likely have on both the partners and any children born of the marriage.
 
For these reasons, we urge the committee to amend Senate Bill 670 to raise the legal age of marriage to at least 17.

SB 671: Hate Crimes - Threats and Penalties (House)

Position: SUPPORT 
 
The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  We offer this testimony in support of Senate Bill 671.
 
Senate Bill 671 would expand our state’s current hate crimes laws to apply, not only to an act or an attempt, but also to a threat to harm a targeted individual or group or their property because of their race, color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, or national origin, or because a person is homeless.  
 
At a time when our society is increasingly marred by incidents of intolerance, it is critical that our communities take a strong and united stance against such acts.  We believe this measure offers an important signal that threatening to harm a person or religious community or their property simply because of their identity is inimical to the peace and fraternity that we should all strive for in our diverse society.  
 
As Pope Francis stated in a 2013 address to a delegation from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, “Wherever any minority is persecuted and marginalized because of its religious convictions or ethnic identity, the wellbeing of society as a whole is endangered and each one of us must feel affected.”  
 
For these reasons, we urge the committee’s serious consideration of Senate Bill 671.
 

SB 707: Criminal Law – Firearm Crimes – Rapid Fire Trigger Activator (House)

Position: SUPPORT 

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

Senate Bill 707 bans a rapid fire trigger activator, commonly referred to as a “bump stock,” in the state of Maryland.  Practically, this means that a person cannot transport, sell, purchase, manufacture, or transfer a bump stock in and throughout Maryland.  The bill further prohibits the use of a bump stock in the commission of a felony or crime of violence.

The Catholic Church has a strong interest in public safety and keeping communities safe.  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states in response to rising violence that “[w]e have an obligation to respond.  Violence – in our homes, our schools and streets, our nation and world – is destroying the lives, dignity and hopes of millions of our sisters and brothers.” To that point, the Church supports legislation that controls the sale and use of and strengthens regulations on dangerous firearms, and other such legislation that makes guns safer.  

In practice, the Conference supports legislation that restricts access to lethal weapons that endanger entire communities.  When community members are not in fear of their lives, they can live up to their God-given potential and enrich the world around them.  Every person has a right to life, and the Conference will continue to work to combat violence and promote a culture of peace.  Banning dangerous and lethal weapon additions such as bump stocks is a manageable and efficient way to begin to curb the rising culture of violence.  Recent events in the U.S. have made bump stocks a primary target of gun control efforts, and the Conference earnestly supports the banning of these devices.  

The Conference appreciates your consideration and, for these reasons, urges you to give a favorable report on Senate Bill 707.  

SB 912: Maryland Prenatal and Infant Care Coordination Services Grant Program (Thrive by Three Fund) (House)

Position: SUPPORT 

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  

Senate Bill 912 establishes the Maryland Prenatal and Infant Care Coordination Services Grant, tasked with providing grant money to counties and municipalities to use in the assistance of low-income pregnant and postpartum women and children from birth to age three.   

The Catholic Church has a strong interest in eliminating poverty and providing supports for women as they move through pregnancy and raise young children.  Mothers are the foundations of families when they bring life into this world.  Low-income mothers and families who face the struggles of poverty are particularly vulnerable, and the Church has a priority in protecting women in this position.

Providing funding for services that assist low-income women and young children who are likely to be more vulnerable should be an important priority for state and local governments.  Low-income women who might not otherwise be able to afford pre- and post-natal care could potentially face adverse health effects, and raising an infant and young child after results in compounding issues.  Looking into the future, those children may face difficulties as they enter their school years and beyond, in addition to any difficulties they already may be up against growing up in a low-income environment.  The Conference supports legislation such as this that provides any funding aimed to prevent hardships for low-income mothers and young children. 

The Conference appreciates your consideration and, for these reasons, urges a favorable report on Senate Bill 912.