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Lessons learned during Legislative session

Friday, 09 June 2017 -
The state legislature adjourned their session on May 23. The legislature will not reconvene until early January. As with all things, lessons were learned along the way. Reflecting on the past several months, my colleagues and I thought the following lessons were particularly beneficial to us and could be to all Catholics across Nebraska.

1. Prayer Matters. Prayer is critical for many reasons, but for two in particular. First, our state senators are constantly discerning what is good and prudent public policy. This is no small task, especially considering the scope and complexity of issues. Senators—like us—approach these decisions in the frailty of their humanity, in need of the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

Second, as Lt. Gov. Mike Foley emphasized during Catholics at the Capitol, there is a spiritual battle occurring within the legislature. When senators debate key social issues (e.g., abortion, marriage and family, human sexuality, religious liberty, education, poverty), the tensions run high. This is unsurprising since these issues are literally a battle over the soul of our culture.

Praying for senators, legislative staff members, lobbyists, and others throughout the legislative session is crucial. Your prayer aids them to discern and act on prudent policy. Your prayers assist and fortify them in the spiritual battles encountered throughout the lawmaking process.

2. Catholic Presence Matters. Throughout the legislative session, the outreach and presence of Catholics across Nebraska had a direct effect on the legislative process. State senators met Catholics through various encounters (e.g., personal contacts, phone calls, e-mails, petitions, testifying at a committee hearing).

These encounters with elected officials should not be taken for granted. These moments further encourage friendly senators. They help educate senators still weighing the issue.

These moments apply pressure to senators who may be indecisive or waffling on an issue. They also inform senators with differing opinions that they have constituents who reasonably and charitably disagree with their positions and votes.

3. Personal Relationships Matter. To build on the previous lesson, it is critical that your voice is heard through various forms of political activity. But take the next step: build a personal relationship with your senator. Take time to get to know your senator as a person. Find ways to invite them to parish activities (e.g., parish festival, fish fry, Mass, etc.). As Christ taught us, the world is transformed through encounters and relationships.

4. Ask Questions, Get Clarity. Never settle for platitudes or slogans when speaking with (aspiring) elected officials. For example, if your senator says they are “pro-life”, don’t let them stop there. Ask what it means for them to be “pro-life”. Are they anti-abortion? If so, what exactly will they do (or not do) to support laws to end abortion and the killing of innocent human life? What have they already done (or not done) in their life as pro-life advocates?

Constituents deserve clear and detailed answers from their senators. This informs you as a citizen, and keeps senators accountable when voting on legislation.

5. Elections Matter. Who you send to the state capitol makes all the difference. One senator can make or break an issue. A single senator can make key contributions through their arguments during legislative debates, private conversations with fellow senators, and deals and compromises they reach throughout the legislative process.

There are moments when the fate of a legislative bill comes down to one or two senators. We experienced this with the advancement of school choice legislation out of the revenue committee and the defeat of legislation that would have substantially defunded Planned Parenthood.

Catholics must be aware of the Church’s teaching on “Faithful Citizenship” and vote during elections in accord with the Truth. We must also pray ardently that God would raise up good women and men for elected office—especially the state legislature—in order that our society would honor God, protect the human person, safeguard the family, and advance the common good.

Conclusion. We hope these few lessons we have learned will help you become a better constituent and advocate with your state senator and legislature. As it is inscribed on our state capitol building: “The salvation of the state is watchfulness in the citizen.” Be vigilant.

Posted on Fri, June 16, 2017 by Tom Venzor

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