Local Catholics participated in a forum on the campus of St. Catharine College Sunday to voice their concerns to area politicians. Among the topics of discussion were a womans right to know the risks of having an abortion, and seeking a cap of 36-percent interest on payday loans. Rev. Patrick Delahanty, the interim director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, said the event, the second of such to be held at SCC, is a way for Catholics to share their views on issues with the people who represent them on the state level.
"Catholics at the Capital is a program the Catholic Conference uses to educate Catholics about issues either before the general assembly, or we think they will be before the general assembly," said Delahanty. "The four archbishops in Kentucky set a legislative agenda based on Catholic social teaching, and we either support or oppose a bill, or we sometimes try to amend a bill to bring it into conformity with the church's faith and our understanding of how we are supposed to live in this society. So we're educating people and we hope they contact their legislators because legislators do listen to constituents. Think of it as the Catholic voice in Frankfort."
Among the legislators scheduled to take part in the symposium were State Sen. Jimmy Higdon (R - Lebanon), Rep. Terry Mills (D - Lebanon), Rep. David Floyd (R- Bardstown) and Rep. Mike Harmon (R - Danville). Scheduling conflicts prevented Harmon from attending.
The crowd was ushered into Pettus Auditorium by SCC student ambassadors Troy Mattingly, a freshman from Louisville, and Kayla Douglas, a freshman from Bardstown. Then SCC President William D. Huston greeted everyone and thanked them for their participation.
Sister Mary Schmuck, a coordinator with Catholic Charities of Louisville, introduced Fr. Delahanty to those in attendance.
"We have a way of life that should have some impact on the communities we live in," he said. "It is important for the people to hear from their legislators as it is for them to hear from us. Catholics make up 10 percent of Kentucky's population, about 400,000 in total, so we can have an impact."
The first subject Delahanty spoke about was the effort to pass in-person, informed-consent legislation for women seeking an abortion.
"Informed consent is a piece of legislation that would require, if passed, that a woman who is considering an abortion would be given information about the procedure, possible side effects and things of that sort in a setting that involves being face-to-face with a medical professional," said Delahanty. "We thought Kentucky law had taken care of that, but the way the court interpreted it as it now stands, the requirements could be fulfilled by a recording. In our opinion, that's not enough. Recordings don't give anyone the opportunity to ask questions. With the recording, every patient is treated the same. Anybody who goes to a doctor knows their body is different than the patient sitting next to them, so the situation and the choices could be different. The current law is faulty and we're seeking to bring it into conformity with good medical practice."
As many people struggle to meet monthly expenses, Delahanty said more are becoming victims to what he calls the "debt trap". He hopes to see a 36-percent interest rate cap placed on payday loan businesses.
"Payday loans are basically short-term, two-week loans based on when somebody gets paid," said Delahanty. "There is a fee around $15 for every $100 borrowed and that ends up being an annual percentage rate around 390-790 percent, depending on how you configure the loan. The borrower writes a post-dated check, which is an exception to Kentucky law. Ordinarily it is against the law to write a post-dated check.
"In the state of Kentucky, we are allowing corporations to engage in business practices that are immoral because they charge fees and interest rates that far exceed what would be normal," added Delahanty. "They are charging up to a 400 percent annual percentage rate for a two-week loan. The customers get caught up in what we call the debt trap, and in order to pay back the first loan, they have to take out another one. It's immoral, and we're seeking to put a cap on that of 36 percent, which the U.S. Congress has already done for military families. What's good and fair for military families should be good and fair for all residents of Kentucky."
Among those in attendance was Gary Clifton, president of Kentucky Home Bank in Bardstown. He said, while most banks shy away from one or two-week loans, payday loan businesses would not be profitable if slapped with a 36-percent cap on interest.
'If a customer borrowed $500 and the cap was 36 percent on a one-week loan, the charge would be $3.68," said Clifton. "Generally speaking, that would not be sufficient to cover the processing cost alone."
Delahanty replied by saying,"Then maybe they shouldn't be making loans for that short of a term if they want to stay in business."
He added the excess money collected by payday loan companies could be used by customers to pay for prescription drugs, rent, food, clothes and other essentials. He quoted Catholic Catechism, which says, "Those whose usurious and avaricious dealings lead to the hunger and death of their brethren in the human family indirectly commit homicide, which is imputable to them."
"That would mean they are murderers," he said. "Now I don't contend there are a lot of people in Kentucky dying as a result of payday loans, but I will guarantee you there are children who are hungry because of payday loans. These companies victimize those who are looking for temporary relief from difficult economic circumstances."
Delahanty hopes to see the bill pass the 30-day legislative session when it begins in January. He said legislation is already in place to limit payday loans to two-at-a-time and for a total amount not to exceed $500.
"In the end, there would be fewer bankruptcies, families would use the money saved to pay for other needs and more of the money disbursed stays in the community. It's in our best interest to put an end to this unjust practice."
Higdon and Mills fielded questions from the audience, and they both encouraged attendees to call and voice their concerns.
"I want to be open and honest with people on where I stand on various issues," said Higdon. "Believe it or not, we work for you. You are our bosses. If you live in my district, I am your voice in the state senate. If you live in Terry's district, he is your voice in the state house. If you call me with your concerns, will you always get what you want? No, but your voice will be heard."
"We are one family and we have responsibilities for one another," concluded Delahanty. "We ask that you contact your legislators and urge them to support this legislation. They do listen to their constituents and your voice is important."
For more information on all topics discussed, visit www.ccky.org on the Internet. To contact your Kentucky state legislators, call 1-800-372-7181.