Bishops support spending for farmworker housing, toxic chemicals ban, parental notification for abortions.
The Washington State House of Representatives’ Health and Wellness Committee held a hearing on Jan. 31 regarding legislation that would make Washington the first state to require insurance plans that cover maternity care to also cover abortions.
Opponents of the bill, HB 1044, claim it violates individuals’ and employers’ freedom of conscience. They insist that the bill’s conscience clause is unworkable, as it refers to two conflicting rights: the freedom of conscience, and the right to receive services.
“If the bill mandates the right to receive abortion coverage from employers, how can employers at the same time exercise their right to conscience?” asked Dominican Sister Sharon Park, executive director of the Washington State Catholic Conference, in an interview with The Progress.
At the hearing, former Democratic Representative Mark Miloscia argued that this legislation could prove to be a fiscal disaster for Washington state. On behalf of the WSCC, Miloscia pointed out that the legislation contradicts the federal Hyde/Weldon amendment, saying the amendment “forbids establishing an abortion mandate in any health care plan.”
“If the legislature passes this law and mandates abortion coverage in all health plans, the state risks losing federal funds for health care, labor and education,” Miloscia said.
The Washington State Senate’s Law and Justice Committee scheduled a hearing on the new companion bill, SB 5576, for 8 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 8.
The House Committee on Community Development, Housing & Tribal Affairs held a hearing on Jan. 31 regarding housing for farm workers.
Gloria Burton, of Catholic Housing Services of Western Washington, spoke of an urgent need for farmworker housing. CHS has built nearly 500 homes serving 2,000 people in Western Washington, she said, but has met less than 5 percent of the need.
Burton said farm workers are the “backbone of our nation’s food system, and yet an invisible workforce in our communities.”
She urged the committee to maintain farmworker housing as a high priority for Washington, saying that “community development is our ultimate goal,” and that housing serves as an anchor for community and family stability.
On Feb. 6 the House Committee on Environment held a hearing on HB 1294. The bill would ban manufacturers and retailers from selling or distributing children’s products or furniture containing certain toxic chemicals. The legislation provides guidelines for regulating other toxic chemicals in the future. The state’s bishops support the bill.
On the same day, the Senate Law and Justice Committee held a hearing on a measure that would require parental notification at least 48 hours before any abortion performed on a minor (SSB 5156).
In Washington state, parents must give consent for any non-emergency medical treatment or medications given to minors, except in the case of abortions. SB 5156 would require notification, but would also allow for broad exemptions in cases of abuse, medical emergency and certain other circumstances.
A poll of Washington state voters conducted by Moore Information, Inc., revealed strong public support for such legislation, being supported by 65 percent of voters, with only 25 percent opposed. The WSCC supports the bill.
February 7, 2013