Ron Johnson is executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference, the legislative arm that represents the Dioceses of Phoenix, Tucson and Gallup, N.M. as well as the Holy Protection of Mary Byzantine Eparchy of Phoenix.
Best legislative session ever for pro-life, religious freedom issues
On May 3, the Arizona Legislature adjourned sine die at 8:25 p.m. after spending 116 days in session. While there were many items of historical significance this year, including the celebration of Arizona’s Centennial, perhaps the most significant item is that the 2012 legislative session can be called the best session ever for pro-life and religious freedom issues!
The Arizona Catholic Conference is appreciative that Gov. Jan Brewer has signed into law an important measure we initiated (HB 2625) pertaining to religious liberty. While there were many distortions from our opponents about this bill, HB 2625 simply exempts religious employers from being coerced by the government to pay for abortifacients and contraceptives in their insurance plans if doing so violates their faith.
With the passage of HB 2625, Arizonans will now be better able to assert their rights by suing the federal government over the HHS contraceptive mandate, and if it is overturned, religious freedom in Arizona will be much better protected.
The ACC is most grateful to Representative Debbie Lesko for sponsoring HB 2625 and her unwavering support in the face of the tremendous national attention garnered by the bill.
In addition to HB 2625, a number of very substantial religious liberty and pro-life bills were also passed into law this session, including conscience protections for various professionals (SB 1365); a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy (HB 2036); and a prohibition on any taxpayer funding passing through the state to abortion providers (HB 2800).
Similarly, the ACC initiated another very important bill (SB 1009) that became law and is aimed at keeping abortion providers out of public and charter schools. Under SB 1009, any discussion of abortion during class time must present childbirth and adoption as the preferred options. The ACC is particularly thankful for the great efforts Senator Nancy Barto made in sponsoring this bill.
Huge school choice victories
Pertaining to school choice, there was a huge victory when SB 1047 was signed into law by Gov. Brewer. Essentially, SB 1047 doubles the amount of the tuition (scholarship) tax credit so that individuals and married couples can now get a tax credit for donations up to $1,000 and $2,000 respectively.
In order to further help save the state money, the new money will be primarily targeted to those switching from public to private schools. It is expected that an even larger number of needy students will now be able to attend the school that best fits their needs under this law.
Additionally, the Empowerment Scholarship Account program enacted into law last year for disabled students is now expanded under HB 2622 to include primarily students from failing public schools. Under this program, students leaving a public school are allowed to take 90 percent of the funding that was allocated for them and use it for other educational purposes, including tuition at private schools.
Problematic bills for immigrants, vulnerable populations defeated
Similar to last year, all of the problematic bills with regard to vulnerable populations were defeated.
Included among these measures was an effort to deny birthright citizenship to undocumented immigrants from Arizona, as well as bills requiring hospitals and schools to inquire about the citizenship status of those that they serve.
Efforts to eliminate or suspend tax credits for people donating to charitable organizations serving the working poor were also thankfully defeated as were efforts to eliminate tuition (scholarship) tax credits primarily benefiting low income children.
Last, but certainly not least, was the defeat of very problematic bills relating to the provision of morning after pills and violations of conscience rights.
The ACC is grateful to House Speaker Andy Tobin and Senate President Steve Pierce for their assistance this session as well as all of the people and groups who supported our efforts through prayers and e-mails. We look forward to always continuing our work on the issues of greatest importance to the Catholic Church.
As always, your assistance in encouraging anybody you know to sign up for free e-mail updates at www.azcatholicconference.org will help us continue to grow the influence of the Catholic Church on these matters.