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Pharmacists’ conscience clause, suicide among top issues for Wash. legislature

January 17th, 2008
The Catholic Northwest Progress (www.seattlearch.org/progress)

OLYMPIA, Wash. (The Catholic Northwest Progress) - Childcare reimbursements, a conscience clause for pharmacists, housing for people just out of prison and WASL test funding for private schools are among the issues the state’s Catholic bishops will be concerned with when the state Legislature convenes its 60-day session Jan. 14. The so-called “short session” includes a supplemental budget to fill gaps from the biennial budget passed last session.

The Washington State Catholic Conference, which represents the bishops on issues of public policy, works with lawmakers to promote the common good and recognize the dignity and worth of every person.

In an interview earlier this week, WSCC Executive Director Dominican Sister Sharon Park highlighted some of the issues expected to come before lawmakers. They include the following.

Life issues

Pharmacies would be required to carry all drugs requested of them, such as the abortifacient “Plan B” pill, under a bill already introduced. The WSCC supports inclusion of a conscience clause for pharmacists who have a moral objection to dispensing certain drugs.

An initiative based on Oregon’s assisted suicide law was expected to be filed Jan. 9. To oppose it, opponents are forming a Coalition Against Assisted Suicide. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic teaching condemns physician-assisted suicide “because it, like murder, involves taking an innocent human life.”

Environment

The WSCC supports policies that enable states to limit greenhouse gas emissions. It also supports a bill encouraging schools and food banks to obtain produce from local farmers, thus supporting the viability of small and mid-sized farms while reducing transportation costs and impacts.

Supplemental budget

An increase in reimbursement rates to childcare centers such as those operated by Catholic Community Services is needed to prevent more facility closures, Sister Sharon said. Operators currently are reimbursed for state-sponsored childcare at only 38 percent of actual costs; three CCS centers have already closed and two more are at risk because of the low rate, she said.

Catholic schools

Many Catholic schools voluntarily participate in the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL), paying some $30 per student for a test that is free in public schools, where the test is required for graduation. Advocates will again ask the state to cover the costs, noting that many Catholic school students go on to public high schools.

Criminal Justice

Because lack of housing is a major reason ex-offenders end up back in prison, the WSCC supports funding for programs that provide housing and support services.

WSCC also supports legislation that would send non-felony, mentally ill persons to evaluation and treatment facilities instead of jail.

Economic justice

It’s been a decade or more since people in the welfare system received increases in their grants in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and General Assistance Unemployable (GA-U) programs. A family of three on a TANF grant, for instance, receives $546 a month. The WSCC supports grant increases.

WSCC also supports reform of the payday lending industry, noting that a typical payday loan carries a 390 percent annual percentage rate.

Health care

With one in four Washingtonians uninsured or underinsured, WSCC supports the legislature’s goal of insuring all children by 2010, and of increasing the Basic Health Plan enrollment levels for low-income working families.

Children and families

Among other measures, the WSCC backs programs that support families and protect children.

Housing

Housing advocates will seek an increase in the Housing Trust Fund, which provides low-income housing, including farmworker housing.

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