Immigration reform, reducing gun violence, ‘moral federal budget,’ combating human trafficking targeted

by Wayne Rhodes, Editor, Faith in Action on February 19, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United Methodist General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) has set its 2013 legislative priorities for the 113th U.S. Congress. The priorities include several issues in the headlines recently, such as immigration reform and reducing gun violence. There are also holdovers from 2012, such as a combating human trafficking and fully funding international family planning.

The priorities support social-justice stances approved by The United Methodist Church’s highest policy-making body, General Conference. The priorities are based on the denomination’s “Social Principles” and theBook of Resolutions, which contains statements on Christian social concerns.

GBCS’s legislative priorities are determined by the social action agency’s work area directors in consultation with the agency’s top executive Jim Winkler. He said the priorities all represent areas to which the faith community can bring a unique voice to the legislative process through a focus on justice.

The legislative priorities are not intended to be a comprehensive list of the advocacy efforts of GBCS, which is charged by General Conference to “seek to bring the whole of human life, activities, possessions, use of resources, and community and world relationships into conformity with the will of God.” Instead, he said the priorities tend to represent areas in which the U.S. Congress is expected to take action.

Winkler pointed out that advocacy efforts targeted at overcoming poverty and improving health resonate with The United Methodist Church’s four focus areas.

2013 legislative priorities

The 2013 legislative priorities are:

  • Protect health security
  • Oppose Internet gambling
  • Just, humane immigration reform
  • End mass incarceration in the U.S.
  • Reduce gun violence
  • Support a faithful federal budget
  • Address the global climate crisis; and
  • Fund foreign-aid to overcome global poverty.
  • Reauthorize Violence Against Women Act
  • Fund international family planning
  • Combat human trafficking
  • Enact comprehensive sex education
  • Fund global-health initiatives.

Following are descriptions of the 2013 legislative priorities:

Health-care security

“Concern for the most vulnerable in our community, particularly low-income women, men and children and people with disabilities, is at the heart of the Gospel and an affirmation of our common humanity,” said the Rev. Cynthia Abrams, director of Alcohol, Other Addictions & Health Care. “We envision a society where each person is afforded health, wholeness and human dignity.”

We envision a society where each person is afforded health, wholeness and human dignity.

Abrams emphasized that all individuals, regardless of their age, income, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity, geography, employment status, or health status, deserve equal access to affordable, quality health care. “Threatening health-care security for some people based on any of these factors is profoundly unjust,” she said.

Congress will be encouraged to protect critical health programs like Medicaid, Medicare and The Affordable Care Act’s Prevention Fund, according to Abrams. She said these are vital to closing the gaps to equal health-care access for all people.

Internet gambling

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006 provides important protections against unfettered access and expansion of gambling, according to Abrams. “Its enactment had a profound effect on online gambling by cutting off their main market, U.S. customers, including young people,” she said.

Abrams said well-funded, powerful lobby groups want to repeal or seriously weaken UIGEA. She said this would provide unrestricted expansion of gambling by creating a virtual casino on any computer or smart phone.

“We don’t need more gambling in the U.S.,” Abrams emphasized. “We will seek to protect UIGEA as an important law that curbs gambling growth and gambling addiction.”

Abrams said advocacy efforts will also support full funding of The Sober Truth in Preventing Underage Drinking (STOP) Act. She said this act seeks to “enact important evidence-based measures based upon landmark Institute of Medicine recommendations.”

Reducing addictions will also continue to receive attention, according to Abrams. She said advocacy will support state and local smoke-free, tax and other evidence-based initiatives to reduce tobacco and alcohol availability and addiction.

Just, humane immigration reform

“In responding to the biblical call to welcome the sojourner, we call on Congress to pass just, humane immigration reform,” said Bill Mefford, director of Civil & Human Rights. He said that reform should provide a pathway to full citizenship for undocumented persons, reunite families and stop deportations until reform legislation is passed.

End mass incarceration in the U.S.

Scripture teaches that the criminal justice system is meant to be a source of healing for all the land, according to Mefford. “Therefore, we call for an end to mass incarceration through sentencing reform, eliminating privatization of prisons, and supporting citizens returning from prison to their home communities,” he said.

Reduce gun violence

“To protect the most vulnerable in our communities,” Mefford said, “we call on Congress to pass legislation that mandates universal background checks for every gun purchased, eliminates high-capacity ammunition magazines, and bans military-style assault weapons.”

Reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act

“Since 1994, the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has saved countless lives and promoted safer homes and communities,” said Amee Paparella, director of Women’s Advocacy. She said Congress will be encouraged to reauthorize VAWA and expand its protections to all victims, including American Indian, Alaskan Native, immigrant and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered and Queer survivors of violence.

Paparella said the Senate overwhelmingly voted to reauthorize VAWA last week, so advocacy efforts will be focused on the House of Representatives.

Fully fund international family planning

Every two minutes somewhere in the world a woman dies from complications during pregnancy or childbirth, according to Paparella. She said Congress will be encouraged to increase U.S. funding for international family-planning programs that promote healthful timing of pregnancies, which saves lives and empowers women.

Combat human trafficking

An estimated 27 million people worldwide are held in forced labor, bonded labor or forced prostitution, according to Joe Kim, GBCS director of Children’s Advocacy. “As people called to liberate the oppressed, we will advocate for the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and its full funding,” he said, “and implementation to protect at-risk populations and victims, to prosecute perpetrators, and to build global partnerships in this effort.”

Comprehensive sexual education [for teens and young adults]

Kim said that in the United States each year more than 750,000 teenaged women become pregnant, with more than 80% of them unintended. Young people account for over one-third of the estimated 50,000 new HIV infections each year, according to him.

“Congress will be encouraged to legislate and fully fund medically accurate and age-appropriate programs that reduce teen pregnancy and associated risk behaviors,” Kim said.

Fund global-health initiatives
[to combat Malaria, HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis]

An estimated 655,000 people died from malaria in 2010, mostly children in Africa. Each day, more than 7,000 people are newly infected with HIV, including 1,000 children. “Congress will be encouraged to fully fund global-health initiatives that protect the lives of millions of our brothers and sisters,” Paparella said.

Support a faithful federal budget

“Amid talks of scarcity and austerity, we as a people of faith continue to embrace God’s economy of abundance,” said John Hill, director of Economic & Environmental Justice. “Congress and the administration must place the needs of those on the economic margins in the center of the debate on budget and tax reform.”

Hill emphasized that in addressing the long-term fiscal health of the country, U.S. leaders “cannot ignore responsibility to our brothers and sisters struggling with poverty at home and abroad.

Another area of effort will be to reform farm policy, according to Hill. He said the goal is to support local, sustainable and small-scale agriculture that increases access to quality food and strengthens communities where it is grown.

Worker justice is also a concern. Hill said advocacy efforts will be targeted at support of unemployed, underemployed and unjustly employed workers through policies that value work, honor the dignity of all workers and ensure a living wage for all.

Address the global climate crisis

“2012 was the warmest year on record in the United States,” Hill pointed out. “The impacts of a changing climate are being felt in communities around the world.”

Hill said GBCS will support efforts by Congress and the administration to reduce global warming pollution, shift to a clean-energy future, and assist communities in adapting to threats of climate change.

Enforcement of the Clean Air Act and other environmental statutes that protect vulnerable populations from exposure to harmful pollutants will also receive support, according to Hill.

Fund foreign aid to overcome poverty

“United Methodists live in countries where the majority of people are poor,” pointed out Mark Harrison, director of Peace with Justice at GBCS. “There is a lack of jobs, food and nutrition security, clean water and sanitation, adequate housing, education and health care. God has given us the knowhow and ability to overcome poverty.”

Harrison pointed out that the General Conference and the Council of Bishops have called on United Methodists to support sustained programs and campaigns to overcome poverty. He said GBCS advocacy will focus on prioritizing U.S. foreign-aid funding to address global poverty with a special concern for Africa and Haiti, and support funding for the reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Cutting U.S. military spending will also get attention, according to Harrison. “We will also support defense transition assistance for communities affected by military spending cuts,” he said.

The General Board of Church & Society is one of four international general program boards of The United Methodist Church. Prime responsibility of the board is to seek implementation of the Social Principles and other policy statements on Christian social concerns of the General Conference, the denomination’s highest policy-making body. The board’s primary areas of ministry are Advocacy, Education & Leadership Formation, United Nations & International Affairs, and resourcing these areas for the denomination. It has offices on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York City.

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