Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Last MCC Weekly Update of 2017

The MCC staff wishes you and yours a blessed and joyous Christmas and New Year! This will be the last MCC Weekly Update of 2017; we’ll return in the new year with the first edition of 2018 on Friday, January 5th. We send our sincere thanks to our many readers who check in with us weekly. Your faithful readership and advocacy helps the conference successfully carry out its mission. Many thanks to you, and a merry Christmas to all!

Signatures Sought for Increase in State Minimum Wage

An effort is underway to place a proposal on the November 2018 ballot that would raise Missouri’s minimum wage, which currently stands at $7.70 an hour.

Under the “Raise Up Missouri” ballot initiative, the minimum wage would go up to $8.60 an hour in 2019, then increase 85 cents per year until 2023, when the wage would be set at $12 an hour.

After that date, the wage would be adjusted annually based on the cost of living. Click here to read the ballot proposal in full.

Catholic teaching supports a living wage, and setting a minimum wage can be one way to ensure workers receive a living wage. The level at which a minimum wage is set, however, is critical. A modest increase to the minimum wage can help workers, but if the wage is set too high, it may depress labor markets as employers let employees go or decide not to hire new employees.

Earlier this summer, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch business reporter, Jacob Barker, filed an interesting story about the effort to raise the minimum wage, which included perspectives from both employees and employers.  You can read the full article here.

The MCC currently has no position on the proposal.

Justice Reinvestment Task Force Proposes Policy Change

The Justice Reinvestment Task Force met for the final time this week. Andy Barbee of the Council of State Governments reviewed the findings of the six-month review of Missouri. Among them were that Missouri’s incarceration rate is the eighth highest in the nation, the Missouri female prison population is the fastest growing in the country, and the outcomes in Missouri’s probation and parole system are lackluster. He made a series of proposals to the task force that would make a proposed reinvestment of state money from $32.3 million in FY 2019 to $188.75 million in five years. He noted that if Missouri accepted the status quo and didn’t make changes, the costs would be $465 million in five years, which included $350 million for the cost of a new prison.

Department of Justice Begins Investigation Into Sale of Fetal Remains

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has asked U.S. Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) to turn over redacted files relating to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s investigation of Planned Parenthood’s sale of fetal remains. The Senate Judiciary Committee conducted an investigation after undercover videos were published showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing harvesting fetal remains from aborted fetuses for tissue procurement companies.

In December 2016, Grassley referred the matter to the DOJ and to the FBI for further investigation, having found that three biotech companies paid Planned Parenthood to acquire aborted fetuses, and “then sold the fetal tissue to their respective customers at substantially higher prices than their documented costs.”

There is no specific timeline in place for the DOJ’s investigation, and it isn’t clear what further steps they will take, but the request for the redacted files is a good first step. Stay tuned as we gather more information about this ongoing investigation.

Catholics Celebrate Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

One of the most celebrated days on the Mexican calendar is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas and the Unborn. This feast day commemorates when Mary appeared to Juan Diego in Mexico in 1531. Fiestas, or public celebrations, are held in honor of Mary on December 12. Catholics across Mexico and other countries take part in pilgrimages to see the image of Mary, believed to be authentic in the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Thousands come to the church to pray. The popularity of this religious feast has grown particularly along the southwest U.S., including cities such as Los Angeles. To hear the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, click here.

Blessing of a Christmas Tree

It’s a favorite holiday tradition for many: the Christmas tree. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB): “The use of the Christmas tree is relatively modern. Its origins are found in the medieval mystery plays that depicted the tree of paradise and the Christmas light or candle that symbolized Christ, the Light of the world. According to custom, the Christmas tree is set up just before Christmas and may remain in place until the Solemnity of Epiphany. The lights of the tree are illuminated after the prayer of blessing.”

Whether your tree is fresh from the farm or freshly pulled from storage, give it a blessing this Christmas. Find out the proper way to bless your tree with this Christmas tree blessing from the USCCB.

U.S. Supreme Court Hears Wedding Vendor’s Religious Liberty Case

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case addressing whether a wedding vendor has the right to refuse to participate in a same-sex wedding by baking a cake for the ceremony. The case has implications for conscience rights and religious liberty.

Jack Philips, owner of Masterpiece Cakes in Colorado, declined a request by a same-sex couple to bake a cake for their upcoming wedding, citing his religious objections to same-sex marriage. The couple reported him to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which charged Philips with discrimination under Colorado law. Lower courts ruled against Philips, stating that he had a duty to serve the couple regardless of his religious objections because he operated a commercial enterprise.

Philips argued that requiring him to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding was forcing him to use his creative talents to endorse something he finds objectionable on religious grounds. Philips stated that he does not bake Halloween cakes, and would also refuse to bake a cake endorsing other objectionable messages. He did not refuse to provide the couple other baked goods, but declined to use his talents to bake the wedding cake for their same-sex ceremony, because he considered it an endorsement of same-sex marriage, which offends his religious convictions.

Three bishops chairing the USCCB’s Committees on religious liberty, defense of marriage, and marriage and family life issued a statement imploring the Supreme Court to rule in favor of Philips as a way of respecting rights of conscience and religious liberty, stating, “We pray that the Court will continue to preserve the ability of people to live out their faith in daily life, regardless of their occupation.” The Court will issue its opinion by June of next year.

“Raise the Age” Bill Filed

Rep. Nick Schroer (R-O’Fallon) held a press conference last Friday to introduce a bill that would require children up to the age of 18 to be prosecuted for most criminal offenses in juvenile court unless the child is certified as an adult. Known as “Raise the Age,” Missouri is still one of only five states that have age 17 as the cutoff for juvenile jurisdiction. Rep. Schroer said the bill would save taxpayer dollars and also preserve parental rights. Last year a similar bill passed the House, but failed to gain traction in the Senate.

Tax Credit Extensions Sought For Maternity Homes and Pregnancy Resource Centers

Right now Missouri taxpayers may claim a state income tax credit when they make a donation to a maternity home or pregnancy resource center. But those tax credits will end soon if the Missouri General Assembly does not reauthorize the programs.

State Rep. Kevin Engler (R-Farmington) has introduced legislation (HB 1288) to reauthorize both the maternity home and the pregnancy resource center tax credits. Both credits are popular with legislators because of the help they provide to women facing crisis pregnancies.

Legislators charged with drafting the new state budget tend to like the two credits because they are modest in scope. Both are capped, allowing no more than $2 million in credits to be claimed in total by taxpayers in any one year.

Despite their popularity, however, smooth sailing is not assured. Although the maternity home and pregnancy resource center credits are modest, other tax credits, like those for low-income housing and historic preservation, put a big dent in state revenue. 

The Missouri Catholic Conference, Campaign Life and Missouri Right to Life will have their hands full ensuring legislators make distinctions between the high-priced tax credits and other modest credits like the ones for maternity homes and pregnancy resource centers. Stay tuned for more.