Weekly State Legislation Highlights

Several church-state separation issues are coming up in the states. Here are a few highlighted bills that AU is working on:

Oklahoma On Tuesday the Oklahoma legislature held a hearing on HB 1918, a bill that provides a way for employers to side-step the federal mandate that the health insurance they provide to their employees cover contraceptives. This underhanded bill proposes state tax deductions for employers that receive federal tax penalties for refusing to provide birth control for employees. It passed the Appropriations and Budget Committee, and we’ll be watching it as it progresses.

Oklahoma: The House Judiciary Committee passed anti-Sharia bill, HB 1060, last Wednesday. The bill claims to prohibit the application of foreign law in Oklahoma, but Oklahoma Courts can already refuse to apply foreign law if it conflicts with U.S. and Oklahoma law.  Instead, this bill targets the Muslim community, perpetuating the false claim that Sharia Law is being implemented in the United States. This bill only perpetuates anti-Muslim sentiment and should not pass.

Vouchers and Tuition Tax Credits

Vouchers and tuition tax credits – backdoor vouchers – funnel taxpayer money away from public schools and fund primarily religious schools, violating our country’s commitment to the separation of church and state. Vouchers do not work: multiple studies of the District of Columbia, Milwaukee, and Cleveland school voucher programs, students offered vouchers do not perform better in reading and math than students in public schools. Not only have these voucher programs been proven to be ineffective, they also often lack accountability and civil rights protections.  Nonetheless, we are seeing several attempts to implement vouchers in the states.

Alaska: The Alaska House Education Committee held a hearing on Friday on HJR 1, which would repeal provisions of the Alaska Constitution that prohibit the state from spending taxpayer money for religious school tuition. AU submitted testimony opposing the resolution.

Nebraska: Richard Spellman, Omaha Chapter President, submitted testimony on behalf of AU opposing LB 14, a tuition tax credit bill.

New Jersey: Governor Christie made his Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Address on Tuesday, revealing a plan to put $2 million towards a pilot voucher program for children to attend private and religious schools. If you live in New Jersey, tell your legislators to oppose vouchers!

Tennessee:  Last week The Tennessee Senate Education Committee placed SB 196, a voucher bill, on its agenda.  AU submitted testimony opposing the bill.  Only one witness was heard at the hearing, however, and the bill will be heard again in committee this Wednesday. The House Education Committee will hold a hearing on the House version of the bill tomorrow.

Continue to check the blog for weekly updates on church state separation issues in the states. To get involved, visit the action center!