JCRC is prepared for legislative session

BY SYDELL SHAYER

Each legislative session is a new opportunity for the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) to work for programs and policies that reflect its core values. High on the list are issues relating to economic, social and political justice. Improving, expanding and enacting new programs to further our goals are the norm. However, given the present political climate, it is sometimes just as important to prevent existing programs from erosion. In 2008 there are plenty of both.

Health care is a case in point. About 700,000 Missourians are without insurance, 80 percent of whom are workers and their families. The insured are experiencing ever increasing insurance costs. In 2005, Missouri reduced its Medicaid eligibility by 100,000 residents. This must be reversed. Access to quality, affordable health care for all, regardless of residence or economic status, is a top priority for the JCRC.

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Happily, other faith and community organizations have coalesced around health care by forming The Missouri Healthcare for All Initiative. Steve Skrainka, Domestic Issues chair, is representing the JCRC in all health care endeavors.

This year will be a continuation of our year long “Confronting Poverty” agenda. Public perception must be changed. The City of St. Louis alone has a poverty rate of 27 percent, for St. Louis County it is 9.4 percent. Hunger reduction, affordable housing and job creation are the broad areas needing attention. Poverty cannot be eliminated in one fell swoop. The major effort must be on the federal level. But in Missouri, the JCRC is addressing this problem on two fronts. One is incremental, by supporting appropriate policies such as earned income tax credits and equal pay for equal work plus funding for federal programs that require a state match. The other is a forthcoming public education campaign to make people aware of the issues and to take action. This initiative is under the direction of Phyllis Markus, Social Justice chair. Immigration is a hot button topic made more so by innuendos, myths and inaccuracies.

People forget that we are a nation of immigrants. The percentage of immigrants in terms of current population figures is no larger than it was in the late 1800s or early 1900s. Immigration policy is a national issue and should remain there. The current atmosphere has, unfortunately, led to the introduction of a slew of anti-immigration legislation. At this point in the legislative process it is unclear if any will survive or even get put on the calendar.

The JCRC believes that punitive measures that criminalize actions by immigrants, social service providers, and others — actions that would not otherwise be prohibited — are unrealistic, potentially discriminatory, and harmful to individuals and communities.

Of great concern to the JCRC is an effort to substitute the Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan (NPC) which has been a model for the nation with a Bi-Partisan Court Plan. This proposed constitutional amendment, which has just been introduced in the Missouri legislature, would politicize the judicial selection process as well as require the governor’s judicial appointments to be subject to senate confirmation. The JCRC is a member of Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts, a coalition whose goal is to retain the NPC.

In addition to the state house, public policy is made at the ballot box. It is possible that a large number of issues, which are currently being circulated for signatures, will qualify to be on the November ballot. There are several petitions of deep concern to the JCRC.

On the top of the list is a proposed initiative to repeal the stem cell research constitutional amendment the Jewish community worked so hard to get passed last year. This effort to repeal is presented in the guise of prohibiting cloning.

Another proposed constitutional amendment is an attempt to ban affirmative action in government and education in the state of Missouri. This effort is presented in the guise of ending discrimination.

There is a proposed tax initiative which would give a 50 percent state income tax credit to individual and corporate contributors and donors to not-for-profit corporations, organizations and foundations in addition to current federal and state income tax deductions. I interpret this initiative as a way to get tax credits for contributions to religious organizations which would be a violation of our constitutional principle separating religion and government. In addition, it would cost state governmental entities over $5 billion annually.

The Jewish Community Relations Council collaborates with the Jewish community and with non-Jewish groups. We have an ambitious agenda. Every issue is important to each of us. We call upon you to join our efforts. Together we can move forward. The JCRC, along with eight other Jewish agencies and organizations, is offering advocacy training for teens and adults through their Speak Out Advocacy Coalition. The presentation, adapted to a group’s needs, covers the most effective ways to contact legislators and will address issues, as requested. If you are interested in a speaker for your group/religious school class, please contact the Jewish Community Relations Council at 314-442-3871.

Sydell Shayer is Advocacy chair for the JCRC.

Published Jan. 23, 2008