Dignity of criminals and workers defended in legislative bills

Aaron Lambert

During the last legislative session, Colorado Catholic Conference pushed several bills of legislation that seek to promote the values of mercy and forgiveness in the criminal justice system.

Senate Bills 180 and 181 deal with the dignity of criminals, while House Bills 1386 and 1388 recognize the dignity of workers. Each of the bills is being supported by CCC because they highlight the relationship between justice and mercy that Pope Francis called people to reflect upon during the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

“[Justice and mercy] are not two contradictory realities, but two dimensions of a single reality that unfolds progressively until it culminates in the fullness of love,” the Holy Father wrote in the papal document Misericordiae Vultus.

Jenny Kraska, executive director of CCC, said they made good gains in criminal justice reform during this legislative session.

“It was great to be able to work on something that will be helpful in the juvenile justice and restorative justice realm in Colorado,” Kraska said.

The CCC said that the following bills “recognize the need for a just punishment, but also offer a dimension of hope, rehabilitation and mercy.”

Senate Bill 180

Senate Bill 180 is a bipartisan bill that aims to form a specialized program with the Colorado Department of Corrections that would determine whether individuals convicted of crimes at a juvenile age continue to pose a threat to the community when they are older.

According the the text of the bill, “the offender serving a sentence for a felony committed while the offender was a juvenile may apply for placement in the program if he or she has served 20 calendar years of his or her sentence and has not been released on parole.”

The bill would provide to such eligible individuals the opportunity to demonstrate that they no longer pose a threat to society, and could be granted early parole if they complete the program successfully.

As of the end of the legislative session on May 11, Senate Bill 180 has passed.

Senate Bill 181

Senate Bill 181 takes a page from the 2012 case Miller v. Alabama, during which the United States Supreme Court ruled that imposing a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole on a juvenile is a form of cruel and unusual punishment prohibited per the eight amendment to the United States Constitution.

This bill allows Colorado district courts the opportunity to consider re-sentencing juvenile offenders in Colorado who were sentenced to a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole as a youth under the age of 18.

Senate Bill 180 and 181 were companion bills, Kraska said. Senate Bill 181 also passed as of the end of the session.

During the last legislative session, lobbying efforts on the part of Colorado Catholic Conference resulted in several bills being passed that uphold the dignity of criminals and workers, and promote the values of mercy and forgiveness within the criminal justice system. The session ended on May 11. (Photo by Manuel Martinez/Viva Colorado)

During the last legislative session, lobbying efforts on the part of Colorado Catholic Conference resulted in several bills being passed that uphold the dignity of criminals and workers, and promote the values of mercy and forgiveness within the criminal justice system. The session ended on May 11. (Photo by Manuel Martinez/Viva Colorado)

House Bill 1386

House Bill 1386 was a bill that was slated to die during the session, but last-minute lobbying efforts on the part of Kraska and CCC resulted in it passing.

According to the text of the bill, “[House Bill 1386] directs the Office of Health Equity in the Department of Public Health and Environment to administer a necessary document program.” Necessary documents are defined by the bill as a social security card, driver’s license, identification card, birth, death or marriage certificates, or any document required in order to be issued one of these documents,

This bill addresses those Colorado citizens who have difficulty obtaining identification documents, namely those who are victims of domestic violence, impacted by a natural disaster, low-income, disabled, homeless or elderly.

The bill will essentially set up a fund within the state that gives to various charities, which in turn will allow for these charities to help people in these situations obtain proper ID documents. This will make it easier for them to find housing, enroll in school and ultimately, do the day-to-day necessities that require an ID to fulfill.

House Bill 1388

House Bill 1388 sought to recognize the dignity of workers by making it so offenders who have paid their society aren’t immediately disqualified from a job based on their criminal history.

The CCC said that “some employers disqualify applicants based on a job application’s criminal history inquiry with our asking further questions about reform, capability or fitness.” House Bill 1388 would provide greater protection for job applicants with a criminal history as they seek to become a truly rehabilitated, productive member of society.

Though the CCC pushed for it to pass, House Bill 1388 died in the Senate.

To learn more about legislation that promotes Catholic values, visit Colorado Catholic Conference’s website.

COMING UP: Conference’s app helps connect faithful to state Legislature

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This is the final story in a series about archdiocesan ministries and programs funded by the Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal.

The Church’s lobbying arm in Colorado has gone mobile.

This month, the Colorado Catholic Conference launched an app for smartphones that provides faithful with another avenue to be connected to legislative activity in the state.

Action alerts, access to proposed legislation, multi-lingual voting guides and resources are a click away for those who download the application on their phone.

“This is just another way to communicate with people and let them know what’s going on, and get more people active and engaged in the public square,” said the conference’s executive director, Jenny Kraska.

The conference, which serves as the lobbying and public policy arm of the three Catholic dioceses in the state, is supported by the Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal (ACA).

Involvement in civic activity including voting and participating in the legislative process is a right and duty, she said.

“We’re lucky that the Colorado bishops take that as seriously as they do,” Kraska said. “In order to be a part of that we do need funding from ACA to be involved and be a constant presence.”

Jenny Kraska, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, advocates for Catholic issues important to the Colorado community.

Jenny Kraska, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, advocates for Catholic issues important to the Colorado community. Photo by Nissa LaPoint/DCR

Kraska, an attorney from Minnesota, said she is the only full-time, faith-based advocate of issues at the state Capitol.

“When the Colorado Legislature is in session, I’m at the Capitol lobbying on behalf of issues that are important to the Catholic Church statewide—everything from the most foundational issue of life, marriage and religious liberty to other issues like immigration, Catholic schools, cemeteries and bingo,” she explained. “The Catholic Church touches on a lot of aspects of our lives whether we realize that or not.”

In the last legislative session, Kraska rallied against the abortion-rights Senate Bill 175 and organized a gathering of nearly 1,000 to join Denver’s Archbishop Samuel Aquila and Greek Orthodox Father Ambrose Omayas in praying for the protection of life outside the Capitol downtown. The bill was defeated.

“It’s one of those things I will never forget. Opportunities to defeat a piece of legislation that is that horrific come along maybe once or twice in a public policy career,” she said.

The conference also played a part in testifying and passing the bi-partisan wage theft bill, Senate Bill 5, which provided a process for handling accusations of missing payments.

“It was nice to be part of something both sides could come together on,” Kraska said.

The conference staff includes Kraska and the coordinator, Diane Chavez, who has worked there for more than 20 years. Kraska was also just elected president of the National Association of State Catholic Conference Directors. She is the first laywoman to take the leadership position that oversees 41 members across the United States.

In her role in Colorado, Kraska also oversaw the conference’s new soon-to-be-relaunched website. In September, the website will include access to all the activities of the conference and the state legislature as well as a “Get Out the Vote” guide that helps inform Catholics voting in the November elections. It will be made available in English, Spanish, Korean and Vietnamese.

Kraska said she hopes the new app and website will encourage more faithful to become involved in the political process.

“There’s simple little things that all of us can do and should be doing to engage the public square,” she said.


Colorado Catholic Conference
Office: 1535 Logan St., Denver
Phone: 303-894-8808
Email: ccc@cocatholicconference.org
Online: www.cocatholicconference.org
App: available on Androids and iPhones; search for “Colorado Catholic Conference”

 

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Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila chose this year’s theme “Go, therefore, and make disciples” (Matt 28:19) to encourage faithful to re-evaluate their roles in making disciples. He said everyone can be disciples for Christ, either directly or indirectly. Gifts to the appeal is one way faithful can help make disciples for Christ.

 

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