As the end of the California legislative session nears, the state’s bishops have recently issued Action Alerts about four key bills on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk that they support and one which they oppose due to impingements on religious freedom.

The bills supported by the bishops will provide cash assistance to needy pregnant women (AB 1579); dismiss charges of prostitution against victims of human trafficking (AB 1585); provide more humane conditions for solitary confined inmates (SB 892); and increase the Cal Grant B Access Award amount for California’s lowest income students (SB 174/SB 798).

The bill opposed by the bishops, SB 1053, would further narrow the definition of a religious organization in California.

Ned Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, explains the bishops’ reasoning behind their support, or opposition, to the following bills.

AB 1579: Support

“AB 1579 offering CalWORKs cash assistance to a needy pregnant woman earlier in her pregnancy is something we’ve been working on for years — ever since California instituted the maximum family grant,” explained Dolejsi.

Under current law, a pregnant woman with no other eligible children in the household is not eligible for basic needs cash assistance through CalWORKs until the third trimester of her pregnancy, with exceptions for pregnant mothers who are 18 years of age or younger.

CCC officials note that the delayed eligibility rule is over two decades old and fails to take into account the many academic studies showing that instability and stress felt by a pregnant woman can have long-lasting impacts on the health of infants and children. AB 1579 will change the policy so that poor pregnant women can access CalWORKs benefits upon the second trimester of their pregnancy.

“This policy of penalizing pregnant women adds pressure to a woman at a vulnerable time in her life,” said Dolejsi. Also, he added, the policy perpetuates the “welfare queen” myth that women get pregnant to receive public benefits.

“Women don’t get pregnant with any greater propensity on public assistance than women in the general population. This bill offers an opportunity to enhance the human dignity of the unborn child.” 

SB 1053: Oppose

Not only does this bill expand the notion of contraceptives to include abortifacients and sterilization for both genders, this latest attempt to narrow the definition of a “religious organization” in California is opposed by the CCC, according to Dolejsi, because “it would enshrine a definition of a ‘religious entity’ so narrowly as to shackle the freedom of people and organizations to follow deeply held beliefs.” 

The definition of “religious employer” is narrower than the department of Health and Human Services mandate, he added. “To require us to only serve and employ Catholics is an ongoing insult to the Catholic community. We have and continue to offer social, health and human services to all — for over a century.”

 “SB 1053 is another public mark in the sand that this society values contraception and abortion over everything else — even religious freedom and services to all,” Dolejsi said. “It is documented that there is no ‘contraceptive equity’ problem in California. This bill is unnecessary and ideological.”


SB 174/SB 798: Support

The CCC supports these bills because they would increase the opportunity for low-income students to access a higher education by helping them pay for textbooks, transportation, rent, health care and other living expenses. These measures will increase the Cal Grant B Access Award amount for California’s neediest students, through $500 million in available tax credits in the College Access Tax Credit Fund and leveraging federal tax deductions for charitable contributions.

Combined SB 174/SB 798 will help make learning in all sectors of higher education affordable for financially deserving, academically qualified California students — those who attend public institutions as well as independent nonprofit colleges. As the U.S. Bishops affirmed in Political Responsibility: Proclaiming the Gospel of Life, Protecting the Least Among Us, and Pursuing the Common Good: “All persons of whatever race, sex, condition or age, by virtue of their dignity as human beings, have an inalienable right to a quality education.”

“The tax credit [built into these bills] is a good first step,” said Dolejsi, who noted that SB 174/SB 798 combined together will create incentives that more than double Cal Grant B Access Awards for more than 177,000 needy students at no cost to the state. “It puts into play the opportunity for low income students to get scholarship funds for books and expenses.”

For more information on the CCC’s recent Action Alerts, log on to