Social Justice: Re-heating leftovers in the 84th Texas Legislature

By Barbara Budde
Columnist

The Christmas and New Year feasts often mean that we find ourselves looking for ways to re-heat the leftovers. As the Texas Legislature prepares to open its 84th Session, there are some leftovers from past years that the Catholic bishops want our elected officials to “re-heat” and pass this year.
In the summer I wrote about pay-day and auto-title lending. Once again the bishops will support legislation that better regulates an industry that is allowed to charge individuals interest rates of 400-700 percent on a short-term loan. The Texas bishops are appalled that loop holes in the law now leave so many of those living on the financial edge vulnerable to this kind of usury. The bishops support regulations that permit short term loans for those in need, but would allow the borrower to repay the loans without incurring endless rollover fees. Similar legislation has been enacted in other states and the payday or auto title lenders are still operating at substantial profit. There are business models that offer lenders an appropriate return on investment for the risk they take without gouging those who are desperate and in great need already.
Last month, the Catholic Spirit had an article about a conference sponsored by the Texas Catholic Conference and St. Edward’s University on end of life care. During the last session, the bishops of Texas worked hard to pass Senate Bill 303, however those efforts fell short. The bishops will try again to enhance Texas law with the insights of the Catholic Church regarding the dignity of the human person –– even as they face death. The present law is inadequate to protect those who are most vulnerable as they face their final days and hours. The bishops, with their legislative supporters, will re-introduce legislation that protects patients, their families, and doctors while remedying some of the loop-holes in the present law.
Another issue from past sessions involves tax credits for private and parochial schools. The Texas bishops have supported parental choice in education for years. Parental choice is maximized when there are strong public and parochial or private schools as well as the option for parents to home school their children. Parents are the first and best educators of their children and they should have options that will best suit the educational and religious needs of their children.
 In testimony before the Senate Public Education Committee, Jennifer Allmon, associate director of the TCC said, “A Tax Credit Scholarship program in Texas would allow businesses to invest in their future workforce by receiving a tax credit from state taxes when they contribute to non-profit agencies that award scholarships to students with financial and academic need. These scholarships would defray educational costs so parents can choose the best education for their children.”
In addition to the positive legislation the Bishops support, part of the work of the TCC and Catholics in the state is to oppose bills the bishops judge as not in keeping with our Catholic vision and values. The bishops will continue to oppose the use of death penalty; funding for abortion or stem-cell research; redefinition of marriage; as well as legislation that creates injustices for immigrants. Please visit the Texas Catholic Conference web page that lists the advocacy issues of 2015 at www.txcatholic.org/legislative-agenda. The TCC will track bills that relate to this agenda of issues with either a green check –– for something that supports our agenda, or a red X –– for legislation that the bishops oppose. The best way to keep up with issues and to participate regularly with advocacy is to sign up for the Texas Catholic Network. There is a link on the front page of the TCC website at www.txcatholic.org. It is time for us to help the bishops pass these important “leftovers” from past sessions. Take action to be a part of the change we all want to see in our great state!

Barbara Budde is the diocesan director of social concerns. She can be reached at (512) 949-2471 or barbara-budde@austindiocese.org.