2022 State Legislative Session: MCC looks to stop gambling expansion, support policies benefiting families
By Joe Towalski
With the start of the 2022 Minnesota legislative session on Jan. 31, among the top policy priorities for the Minnesota Catholic Conference will be stopping efforts to legalize sports betting in the state, increasing supports for nonpublic school students and ensuring the budget surplus is used to benefit one of the state’s most important resources: families.Efforts to legalize sports gambling have been gaining momentum and bipartisan support, said Jason Adkins, executive director of MCC, the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in the state. The Church does not prohibit Catholics from participating in games of chance or charitable gaming. But sports gambling promoted by large online betting companies raises the stakes for potential abuse, and MCC will oppose efforts to legalize it in Minnesota.
“Sports betting — and sports betting accessible via smartphone — is a really dangerous door to open and could really harm Minnesota’s families,” he said. “This is not simply innocent fun that people use to make their game-day watching experience more exciting. This is something that could result in significant detriment to those who already have addictive personalities and gambling problems and to their families. We all suffer when that happens.”
On the educational front, MCC will seek to extend counseling and mental health services aid to nonpublic school students at the primary school level, Adkins said. Currently such aid is only available to nonpublic school students in grades 7 through 12.
“We’re seeing mental health challenges and mental health needs growing among young people,” he said, “and those counseling services are important supports for our students.”
MCC and its nonpublic education partners also will advocate for changes to transportation aid funding and policies that provide more flexibility when public schools move to distance learning. Currently, when public schools opt for distance learning, private school students may lose their busing services.
MCC also will be watching how legislators address the state budget surplus — approximately $7.7 billion — to ensure that economic security for families is prioritized.
With regard to the surplus, it’s a “false binary” to approach it as a choice between only two options: spending it on new programs or providing across-the-board tax cuts, Adkins said.
“Let’s break that Gordian knot and have the best of both worlds by targeting tax relief to the state’s most important producers: our families,” he said. “They produce our most important and precious resource — our children, who are our future.”
The goal would be to provide economic support and security to low- and middle-income families with paid-leave programs and tax relief options that give families the flexibility to use the funds in ways that will benefit them most.
“If you create a child tax credit or a child allowance, people can use that on child care if they want. Or if moms decide to stay home with their kids, they can take those dollars and use them on something else they need to support their families,” Adkins said. “We want to transform the policy debate and get past the false binary. Our Minnesota bishops support a long-term look at ways to promote family economic stability. So this is a conversation you’re going to hear more about as we look to the future.”
The Minnesota Catholic Conference also will monitor other issues during the 2022 session:
• Legalizing recreational marijuana: MCC will continue to oppose efforts to legalize recreational marijuana use. A bill that would have created a commercial recreational marijuana industry in the state passed last year in the House but failed in the Senate. The issue was highlighted at the virtual Catholics at the Capitol event last April, and Adkins credits proactive outreach and educational efforts for garnering increased opposition to the idea, including among some business groups. “I think we’re in a really good spot, and we’ve helped put on the brakes regarding this issue,” he said.
• Physician-assisted suicide: Opponents of physician-assisted suicide have been effective in helping to shape the public conversation regarding the moral and ethical concerns it raises, said Adkins, adding that he doesn’t expect the issue to gain much traction this session. “We still have to be vigilant and that’s why we’re continuing to build our coalition, which is now over 70 organizations,” he added. “We continue to do education webinars and outreach.”
• Positive Alternatives Grant Program: MCC supports increased funding for this program which supports the work of crisis pregnancy centers. The program promotes healthy pregnancy outcomes and assists pregnant and parenting women in developing and maintaining family stability and self-sufficiency. In a budget that will reach $60 billion by 2024, the state allocates only $3.7 million for these services, according to MCC, although the most recent round of grant applications totaled about $6.5 million.
Care for creation also has been an ongoing priority for MCC. In 2019, MCC released “Minnesota, Our Common Home,” which applied locally the message from Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’ on Care for Our Common Home.” This led more recently to MCC joining a new campaign called “Upstream” to help foster a culture of stewardship in the state.
“What Upstream is really about is to create a platform where Minnesotans can share their story and express their commitment to stewarding our great natural resources and trying to move it beyond a narrow concern of certain groups to a broader base movement that everyone can get behind no matter their background,” Adkins said.
“We love this state, we love its beautiful, natural resources,” he added. “We can all express our commitment to stewardship, and then the politics will work itself out when we build some common ground for the common good.” (Learn more about Upstream at mnupstream.org.)