Inside this issue
  2016 Legislative Session Convenes; Governor Scott Delivers State of the State  
  On Tuesday morning, January 12, 2016, Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner convened their chambers to begin the 2016 Florida Legislative Session. Both leaders identified priorities for the session which include increasing educational and job opportunities for people with disabilities and setting new policies related to state springs and water quality.

Describing Florida in one word, "growing," Governor Scott's State of the State Address focused on the successful creation of jobs in the state, as well as the importance of continuing the effort to create more. Declaring "Our goals are mighty, our challenge is clear," the governor called for a $1 billion tax cut package and $250 million in economic-development incentives for businesses.

Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) and House Minority Leader Mark Pafford (D-West Palm Beach) provided responses to the governor's address saying the call for tax cuts would not help struggling Floridians who need health care and living wages.


  U.S. Supreme Court Finds Florida's Death Sentencing Scheme Unconstitutional  
  In a major decision, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday found that Florida's system for sentencing a person to death is unconstitutional. The 8-1 ruling in Hurst v. Florida said that the state's sentencing procedure violates the Sixth Amendment because it allows a judge, not the jury, to decide whether the circumstances of a crime warrant a sentence of death. Currently, Florida's sentencing scheme allows a judge to find an aggravating circumstance, independent of a jury's findings. Statement on Hurst decision from Michael Sheedy, FCCB executive director.
The legislature has the opportunity to address the court's ruling during this 2016 session. Two bills filed previously, SB 330 (Altman) and HB 157 (Rodriguez, J.), prohibit a judge from making findings of fact that were never considered by the jury and require: 
  • A jury unanimously determine the existence of aggravating circumstances
  • Jurors be unanimous in recommending the death penalty 
While Florida's Catholic bishops continue to oppose the use of the death penalty, SB 330 and HB 157 improve our state's capital sentencing process by encouraging more thoughtful deliberation among jurors and ensuring a more reliable sentencing process.


  Legislature Passes Expansion of Scholarships for Students with Disabilities  
  SB 672 (Gaetz, D.), a priority bill of Senate President Andy Gardiner, was unanimously passed (39-0) in the Senate chamber on Wednesday, January 13. With the passage of a late-filed amendment by Senator Don Gaetz (R-Destin), the Florida Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts Program was renamed The Gardiner Scholarship. President Gardiner, who has a son with Down Syndrome, has made it a priority to assist people with developmental disabilities throughout his time in office. The bill expands the program, which helps families of children with disabilities cover special education costs, to include eligibility for autism spectrum disorder and muscular dystrophy and 3- and 4-year-olds. On Thursday, the House took-up SB 672 and passed it (109-1). The bill has been sent to the governor for his signature.  


  House Speaker and Committee Back KidCare for Legally-Residing Immigrant Children  
  The House Health Innovation Subcommittee on Wednesday unanimously approved (13-0) HB 89 (Diaz, J.) that would eliminate a five-year waiting period before qualified children of legal immigrants are eligible for the KidCare health-insurance program. The vote came a day after House Speaker Steve Crisafulli during his opening session remarks called for passage of the bill. Removing the waiting period would allow more than 17,000 children to qualify for coverage immediately. The proposal, which promotes healthier children and families in Florida, has been a perennial priority of the FCCB. Michael McQuone, FCCB associate director for health, said in testimony before the committee, "providing legally-residing immigrant children with the opportunity to receive health benefits from their earliest years will have lifelong benefits to their overall growth and development."  


  Immigration Bills Opposed by FCCB Move Through Committees  
  HB 9 (Trujillo), which creates a state felony and increases the penalty for the illegal reentry of undocumented persons, was passed (8-3) by its second committee of reference, House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, on Wednesday. FCCB Executive Director Michael Sheedy, expressed concerns with the bill in a letter addressed to the bill sponsor and members of the subcommittee.

FCCB concerns include:
  • Immigration is a federal issue, not a state issue.
  • HB 9 prevents future opportunities to become legally documented.
  • The Florida economy and prison systems would be burdened by incarcerating people who would otherwise be contributing to our economy.
Also on Wednesday, HB 675 (Metz) was passed (9-4) by its first committee, the House Civil Justice Subcommittee. This bill requires that local law enforcement agencies enforce federal immigration policy. Ingrid Delgado, FCCB associate for social concerns/respect life, expressed the FCCB's opposition during the committee hearing.

A great deal of public testimony was provided in opposition to both bills during their committee hearings.


  Sadowski Housing Coalition Calls for Full Funding of Affordable Housing Trust Fund  
  Members of the Sadowski Housing Coalition gathered at the Florida Realtors' Association in Tallahassee on January 7 to implore Florida's legislators, "Don't sweep housing trust funds" because "Home Matters."
The Sadowski Coalition is a statewide organization comprised of diverse groups, including the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, that recognize the need for, and value of, ensuring adequate housing for Florida's citizens. Ingrid Delgado, FCCB's associate for social concerns, explains that "used properly, the trust funds provide assistance to vulnerable populations who most need help."  In so doing, the affordable housing opportunities help "both the individual and the community." Read more.


  Catholic Days at the Capitol Registration Deadlines Approaching  

Catholic Days at the Capitol provides the opportunity to put your faith into action and effect positive change in Florida's laws. You can strengthen the presence of Catholic values in the public square by joining with Floridians from across the state to advocate for laws that protect and defend human life and dignity. Your participation in this event helps to give a voice to some of the most vulnerable and marginalized populations in our state and assists in promoting the common good for all of Florida's residents. 

Catholic Days activities include:
  • A legislative briefing on policy issues affecting human life and dignity
  • Pre-scheduled meetings with lawmakers
  • A luncheon for Catholic Days participants, Florida's bishops and legislators
  • Group photos of each diocesan delegation
  • Tours of the current and historic capitol buildings

41st Annual Red Mass of the Holy Spirit
Scheduled for 6:00 p.m. at the Co-Cathedral of St. Thomas More, the Red Mass will be celebrated by the bishops of Florida on the evening of February 17 to pray for those working in the legislative, judicial and executive branches of government. Msgr. David L. Toups, S.T.D., Rector/President, St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary, Boynton Beach will serve as this year's homilist.

Catholic Days registration forms and contact information for diocesan coordinators are available on the FCCB website at Pre-Registration is required. Registration deadlines are approaching. Register today.

Make the trip. Make a Difference.


  Bishops Release Statement Marking 43rd Anniversary of Roe v. Wade Decision  
  Saddened by yet another anniversary of the January 22, 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, the Catholic bishops of Florida recognize in their annual Roe v. Wade statement the courage of lawmakers who this past year sought to reduce abortion in our state.
The bishops were deeply moved by the post-abortive women who came forward in committee hearings during Florida's 2015 legislative session to support a reflection period prior to abortion. "Their courage and willingness to shed light on the evil of abortion is commendable and reminds us of the unassuming, yet life-changing, work of our post-abortive ministries who invite the many men and women harmed by abortion to a process of healing and spiritual restoration," said the bishops.
"To call ourselves unequivocally pro-life requires that we always choose life, even when it most challenges us: whether encountering an unplanned pregnancy, ill and dying loved ones, the execution of a convicted criminal, or the stranger seeking refuge in our communities," state the bishops. "Recognizing we often fall short of this great task, we are jubilant that this Year of Mercy, called for by Pope Francis, invites us to seek forgiveness and find peace through the miracle of God's infinite and inexplicable mercy."
Read the full text of the statement in English or Spanish.


  9 Days for Life: Prayer, Penance, and Pilgrimage  
  The faithful are called upon by the United States' bishops to participate in 9 Days for Life, a period of focused prayer and action from Saturday, January 16, 2016 - Sunday, January 24, 2016. As a "digital pilgrimage," 9 Days for Life is easily accessible and powerful.

Each of the nine days is assigned a specific prayer intention, and Catholics all across the nation are asked to join in prayer to help convert our society to one that affirms and respects each other's God-given dignity-from the beginning of life to its natural end.

Joining thousands of others in this concerted effort to build a culture of life is easy. The provides four joining options:
  • Text 9DAYS to 55000 to receive a link on your phone each day
  • Enter your email online to receive the daily intercessions in your inbox
  • Download a free app for your iPhone or Android
  • Visit the novena page to follow on the Web or print the novena
Your prayers matter and your sacrifices make a difference. Sign up in whichever way is most convenient for you.


  Recent News from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops  

January 12, 2016: In light of recent enforcement actions conducted by the Department of Homeland Security for the purpose of deporting 121 individuals, primarily mothers with children, the bishops who chair the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network called for an end to such practices.

January 11, 2016: The General Counsel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) filed a brief amicus curiae in the Zubik v. Burwell case now before the U.S. Supreme Court on the question of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) contraceptive mandate.

January 6, 2016: Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, comments on President Obama's measures on the regulation of firearms: "For a long time now, the bishops of the United States have called for reasonable policies to help reduce gun violence."

December 23, 2015: Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, released a statement expressing grave disappointment that the 2016 omnibus funding bill passed by the U.S. Congress did not include the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA).


  Follow Us on Social Media  
  Are you following the Catholic bishops on social media? Look for updates and opportunities throughout the session to take action on proposed legislation. Also, as we celebrate this Year of Mercy, look for #MercyMonday posts.

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January 15, 2016

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E-Update: Week 1

Each Friday during the 60-day session, the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops (FCCB) provides a summary of activity on priority bills and other items of interest at the Capitol.

For the current status of FCCB priority bills, see our legislative bill report.

The 2016 Regular Session of the Florida Legislature began Tuesday, January 12 and is scheduled to conclude Friday, March 11.

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