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April 25, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 8   •   Oakland, CA
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Representatives from the Diocese of Oakland — Patrick Shandonay, Cristina Hernández, Mary Marsella, Meg Bowerman, Benisa Berry, Irene Alonzo-Perez, Jaime Perez, Geoff Collins and Gwen Watson — prepare to visit their Assembly members and state senators during Catholic Advocacy Day.

Catholics meet legislators to advocate their positions

Catholics from around California, including 10 from the Diocese of Oakland, converged on Sacramento to visit their elected representatives and advocate for legislation on Catholic Advocacy Day.

The issues they discussed on April 19 ranged from additions to the assisted-suicide legislation passed last year, and matters of restorative justice, human trafficking and tax relief for teachers.

Catholic Advocacy Day
Bills to watch

SB 1002: End of Life Option Act Toll-free Telephone Number (oppose)

2016 Budget Act: Coverage of aid-in-dying drugs for Medi-Cal recipients (oppose)

AB 1276: Child witness in human trafficking (support)

2016 Budget Act/SB 23: CalWORKS eligibility (support)

2016 Budget Act: K-12 Teacher Professional Development Tax Relief (support)

AB 2590: Sentencing: restorative justice (support)

Additional information: California Catholic Conference, www.cacatholic.org
In scheduled meetings with Assembly members and state senators, or in some cases, members of their staffs, the diocesan representatives expressed their opposition to two actions under consideration: the establishment of a state-funded 800 telephone number to provide information on the end-of-life option and another that would provide state funds to Medi-Cal recipients to end their own lives.

Based on Oregon's numbers of those on public assistance who seek assisted suicide, a California budget analysis projects 443 Medi-Cal recipients might request such assistance. The estimated cost of the two required office visits and the suicide pill itself is estimated to be $2.3 million.

But, the California Catholic Conference pointed out, alternative care, such as palliative care, is not available to Medi-Cal recipients. Only one-third of Medi-Cal patients diagnosed with cancer are treated, the group said.

Before heading to the Capitol, the California Catholics attended a prayer service, led by Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto, in the hall of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.

It is the Good Shepherd, he said, who "calls us to Himself" and sends us out to echo his voice. "We draw from the well of the mercy, wisdom and grace of the Good Shepherd."

Ned Dolejsi of the California Catholic Conference told the 100 assembled participants about the busy day ahead of them, offering brief descriptions of the legislation on the table, and reminding them that they are the "voices of many."

According to the conference, there are 11 million Catholics in California.

The group from the Oakland diocese divided into two parts by county. Members of the Contra Costa Advocacy Team were Irene Alonso-Perez and Jaime Perez, St. Bonaventure Parish, Concord; Benisa Berry and Patrick Shandonay, St. Joan of Arc Parish in San Ramon; and Gwen Watson, Christ the King Parish in Pleasant Hill.

"I don't think we changed any legislators' minds on the issue of assisted suicide," Watson said after visits at three offices. "But I felt we made the aides we spoke with better informed on the matter of the toll-free phone number.

"We brought forward an issue they were aware of — trafficking — but were not aware that there was a bill for them to take a stand on in a small but specific way, (by permitting the young victim to give testimony via video," she said.

Berry and Shandonay were making their first trips to Catholic Advocacy Day. Berry said she has interest in restorative justice.

Alonso-Perez said she has been active in her parish's family-to-family program with Catholic Charities, and is now involved in efforts to fight human trafficking.

Jaime Perez, her husband, said the issue of the tax relief for teachers hit home. The Catholic group is advocating for a tax credit for teachers who, within five years after receiving their credential, must complete continuing education that can cost about $2,500.

On the Alameda County side, Meg Bowerman, a parishioner at St. Columba in Oakland and leader in the JustFaith movement, and Mary Marsalla, a volunteer with Catholic Charities of the East Bay's efforts on ending human trafficking, talked with staff members of state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, and Assembly member Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond.

Marla Cowan, Hancock's legislative director, said the senator supports the end-of-life legislation, but expressed support for the other bills the Catholic conference is promoting. Thurmond aide Rodolfo Rivera Aquino, too, said the assembly member had supported last year's end-of-life bill, and said the other issues on the agenda were on topics that are in line with his concerns.

On Catholic Advocacy Day, legislators and their staffs saw "a broad spectrum of Catholics," Bowerman said. "We do look at all sorts of issues," she said.

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