Tuesday, March 10, 2009

News Times article RE: Hearing canceled on proposed Bill 1098

HARTFORD -- The co-chairmen of the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday afternoon abruptly cancelled the public hearing Wednesday on a controversial change to the way that Catholic churches are run.

News of the cancellation -- and the termination of the proposed legislation for the legislative session ---came during a noontime news conference of minority Republican lawmakers.

In reaction, House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said they would welcome busloads of Catholics from throughout the state and host a day-long hearing on the issue anyway.

"What are we gonna tell them?" Cafero quipped during the news conference. "Game called on account of rain?"

Sen. Andrew J. McDonald, D-Stamford and Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, D-East Haven, withdrew the proposal from the public-hearing list in response to a request by two reform-minded Catholics: Tom Gallagher of Greenwich and Paul Lakeland, director of the Center for Catholic Studies and Fairfield University.

The two chairmen issued the following statement:

"For reasons that are unclear, Connecticut has had generations-old laws on the books singling out particular religions and treating them differently from other religions in our statutes. That doesn't seem right. In fact, many of our existing corporate laws dealing with particular religious groups appear to us to be unconstitutional under the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. If that is correct, any changes to that law would likely also be unconstitutional.

"With that in mind, it would serve no useful purpose to have a conversation about changing the laws that govern existing Roman Catholic corporations until we know if any of these existing laws are constitutional. At the request of the proponents who are advocating this legislation,, we have decided to cancel the public hearing for tomorrow, table any further consideration of this bill for the duration of this session, and ask the Attorney General his opinion regarding the constitutionality of the existing law that sets different rules for five named separate religions.

"We think it would be more appropriate to invite representatives from all religious denominations around the state together with legal scholars on this topic to participate in a forum regarding the current law. Such a conversation would be more appropriate to have when the legislature is not in session and other more important issues, such as the current fiscal crisis, are resolved. We intend to do that once we have the benefit of the Attorney General's opinion.

"In the meantime, we think it would be most beneficial if the proponents who requested these changes and church officials meet together privately to see if they can come to a resolution on their own. Open and honest communication between these two groups could only help. For our part, we intend to reach out to representatives of the Catholic Conference and continue the discussion that began in 2008 on this issue. We hope they will agree to meet with us."

See article here at the News Times for a limited time.

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