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Florida Catholic Bishops Unveil Legislative Agenda

January 16, 2011 - 6:00pm

Representing almost 2.3 million Catholics in the Sunshine State, the Florida Catholic Conference unveiled its goals for the 2011 legislative session, promoting policy that will win the backing -- and the opposition -- of liberals and conservatives alike.

The bishops who lead the seven dioceses across Florida -- Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, Bishop Gerald Barbarito of Palm Beach, Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Bishop Victor Galeone of St. Augustine, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Bishop John Noonan of Orlando and Bishop John Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee -- were joined by Auxiliary Bishop Felipe Estevez of Miami in expressing their hopes for the coming session.

The Florida Catholic Conference supports public policies that respect all human life, whether unborn, disabled, poor, alien or rejected; on death row or in the family of a victim of crime or violence; well, sick or dying; young or old, wrote the bishops. The Conference advocated measures to strengthen families, improve the moral climate, and protect religious freedom.

"The Conference supports legislation which relieves the burden of the poor, aged, children in need, and disabled; contributes to the reform of the criminal justice system; assures the rights of parents in the education of their children, protects the environment for future generations and addresses the needs of farmworkers and immigrant families.

The bishops expressed their support of the measure that was passed by both houses of the Legislature but vetoed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist last year requiring all women considering having abortions to have ultrasounds performed. The bishops also called for a constitutional amendment defending life and called for an end to public funds being used for abortions.

The bishops also touched on social issues, noting their opposition to any attempts to pass punitive laws aimed at undocumented immigrants. With members of the Florida Legislature expected to push an Arizona-style law on immigration, the bishops are almost certain to oppose the measure.

Focusing on health care and Medicaid, two other issues that the Legislature will address, the bishops called for expanded access for Medicaid beneficiaries, fair funding of services and for cracking down on fraud.

As a basic human right necessary for a healthy and just society, we support ensuring accessible, quality health care for all, wrote the bishops. Our health delivery system must be rooted in values that respect life, acknowledge human dignity and respond to the needs of the poor and vulnerable.

The bishops also called for increased school choice, including backing the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program and the McKay scholarships. They also backed vouchers for pre-kindergarten and giving private school graduates the same access to higher education scholarships as their public school counterparts.

Reach Kevin Derby at or at (850) 727-0859.

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