March 19, 2015

Catholic Day at the State House

When Bishop Libasci came to New Hampshire, one of his ideas was to institute a Catholic Day at the State House.  The idea came from a similar event all the dioceses in New York do - they spend two days at the New York State House meeting with legislators, lobbying, etc.  After a lot of hard work planning, we had our first Public Policy day in New Hampshire yesterday.  The was organized in large part by Meredith Cook '89, the director of public policy for the Diocese of Manchester.  I serve on the Public Policy Commission with Meredith and so she invited Trinity High School students to attend and be a part of the day.  I brought along the students in my AP Government and Politics class as well as the participants in our Youth and Government program.  In all, about 25 students attended (some couldn't make it) along with 150 other Catholics from around the diocese.

The day began at the Holiday Inn which is across the street from the State House.  We were treated to some tasty breakfast food followed by opening prayer and remarks by Bishop Libasci.  Bob Dunn, the chief lobbyist for the diocese, spoke about a number of bills that the diocese is following, including a bill that would repeal a buffer zone around abortion clinics, a bill that will study end of life issues, education tax credits, and cuts in social services.  He told a humorous story about a group of Sisters of the Holy Cross who testified against medicaid cuts and sat in the front row while the committee took their vote - the funding wasn't cut.  Bob called the sisters their nuclear weapon!

Following this, we all headed up to the State House where we took a group photo.  We then went to the House chamber where we were going to watch a House session.  However, for the first time in history, the House wasn't in session on a Wednesday in March.  I guess they've been so efficient this session that they were able to take the day off.  Instead, we heard presentations from House Speaker Shawn Jasper, the woman who conducts tours of the State House (I forget her name) and another presentation from Bob Dunn.  This was followed by breakout sessions and Trinity students were fortunate to get their own special session.  Before that, however, we took a  a group photo on the Speaker's rostrum, toured the governor's office and spent some time in the Senate gallery.  We went to the Legislative Office Building and heard some talks by two state representatives - Rep. Robert Cushing from Hampton and Rep. Jordan Ulery from Hudson.  They spoke about the legislative process, working with members from the other party (Cushing is a Democrat and Ulery a Republican), current legislation, etc.  Meredith then introduced Devon Chaffee from the New Hampshire ACLU and she and Meredith spoke about the roles of lobbyists and how sometimes the two come together to work on issues despite differences on major issues such as abortion.

We all then went back to the Holiday Inn for lunch and a keynote address by former Speaker Donna Sytek and closing remarks by Bishop Libasci.  I was happy to run into Rep. Bill Nelson, the father of my good friend and our former Campus Minister Fr. Andrew Nelson and his brother Bill (Bill was the best man at my wedding and is my oldest son's godfather, Andrew is my daughter's godfather).  I've know Rep. Nelson for many years and was glad to have him join us for lunch.

We had to sneak out after the bishop's talk as we were running late and our bus driver had to make other pick-ups.  But it was a wonderful, wonderful day and the message the students heard over and over was to stay/get involved, anyone can really run for office, and their voice matters.  Many folks, including the speaker, commented on how happy they were to see young people there as they aren't always active in politics.  I hope and pray that they were inspired and will remain active, faithful citizens.

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