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Kate Alexander
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Conference promotes BOAST, opposes social service cuts during 2010 session

ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Catholic Church in the state, will focus on passing the BOAST Maryland Tax Credit and preventing cuts to needed social service programs during the 2010 session of the Maryland General Assembly.

The Conference expects its efforts to be bolstered by large grassroots support. A registration drive in about 120 parishes this fall for the e-mail based Maryland Catholic Advocacy Network more than doubled the size of the Conference’s online supporters.

Below is a preview of legislative issues the Conference expects to weigh in on this session. This is sampling of the issues, and is not exhaustive.

BOAST Maryland Tax Credit: BOAST (Building Opportunities for All Students and Teachers) would help expand scholarships for nonpublic school students and grants for nonpublic school teachers by offering businesses a state income tax credit in exchange for their donations to scholarship programs. BOAST also benefits public school students and teachers by allowing businesses to receive the credit for donations to extracurricular programs and continuing education. The need for BOAST is particularly urgent given the increasing pressure on public schools to accommodate nonpublic school students whose families can no longer afford them. Maryland nonpublic school students save state taxpayers $1.5 billion annually in per-pupil costs. In light of the state’s budget situation, the BOAST bill will be introduced this year without funding and will instead focus on administrative authorization.

Poverty and budgetary issues: Even before recent budget difficulties, many of Maryland’s social service programs were underfunded and understaffed. This year’s budget cuts caused the elimination of the Maryland MedBank Program, which provided prescription drug assistance to needy individuals, the closure of several mental health facilities, and reductions in rates paid to community and health services providers, which can cause them to go out of business or stop accepting Medicaid patients. The Conference will work to ensure that the state budget helps vulnerable Marylanders meet their basic needs.

Stem cell research: Though ethically-problematic embryonic stem cell research has yet to produce a single cure or treatment, the state this year devoted $12 million in taxpayer dollars to stem cell research during a budget deficit. This is particularly concerning given that the state has totally eliminated a program that helped needy individuals get proven prescription drugs they need right now (see paragraph above). A cut to the stem cell research program is possible, and the Conference will continue to advocate that state tax dollars be dedicated exclusively to ethical adult stem cell research, which is already treating more than 70 different diseases and injuries.

In an election year, passage of a bill to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples is unlikely. However, the Conference will work to remind and encourage legislators of the public’s overwhelming support (evidenced recently in Maine, New York, and New Jersey) for maintaining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The Conference will oppose any efforts that seek to undermine our society’s foundational relationship.

Death penalty: Though a repeal bill is unlikely to be filed because it is an election year, the Conference will work with other death penalty repeal advocates to ensure that the gains made last year requiring heightened evidence requirements for capital cases are not diluted or diminished.

Support for pregnant women: Despite national trends indicating a growing majority of citizen support for pro-life causes, recent local bills in Baltimore City and Montgomery County have sought to harass and discredit the work of pregnancy resource centers, which provide emotional and material support to pregnant women in need. The Conference will share with state legislators the important service these centers provide, ask their help in efforts to ensure that no woman feels forced to have an abortion, and oppose any efforts that would harm pregnant women or the pro-life charities that assist them.

Nonpublic Student Textbook Program: This loan program, which provides nonreligious textbooks and computer hardware and software, is the only form of state support that Maryland’s 130,000 Catholic and other nonpublic school students receive. The Conference will work to ensure that the program, funded at $4.4 million for the current fiscal year, continues to receive adequate funding.

Source of Income Discrimination: Vulnerable Marylanders who receive federal housing vouchers, veteran’s housing assistance, disability assistance, or child support payments are often discriminated against by landlords when they apply to rent a safe and livable apartment simply because of the assistance they receive. The Conference supports legislation that would ensure that those potential tenants are not discriminated against simply because of their lawful source of income (landlords would still be able to evaluate eligibility based on other factors like rental history).

Maryland Catholic Conference staff members are available for print, online, and broadcast interviews on any of the legislative issues above. To arrange an interview, please contact communications director Mary Sullivan.