Legislation on this year’s agenda for the virtual Catholic Advocacy Day in Maryland on Feb. 16 would increase funding for BOOST scholarships for low-income families of students attending Catholic and other nonpublic schools; create a state fund for family and medical leave; and make information about perinatal hospice widely available.

The annual day when Catholics lobby their state legislators last year shifted from an in-person activity at the State House to a broader campaign for electronic messaging and phone calls in support of advocacy priorities of the Maryland Catholic Conference.

The State House is closed to the public because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The General Assembly continues to meet virtually for most committee work and other purposes. Members convene in person only for floor votes, in chambers that have been adapted with plexiglass cubicles to prevent the spread of germs.

Instead of meeting with legislators or their staff members in person, Maryland Catholics are encouraged to join the Catholic Advocacy Network and use the electronic materials that will be sent out Feb. 16 to submit comments to legislators.

This year’s key priorities for Advocacy Day includes three legislative proposals out of the more than 2,200 bills introduced this session. As of Feb. 11, the Maryland Catholic Conference had submitted testimony on more than 75 bills, ranging from several related to tax credits for specific populations to a proposal to fund a pilot program to create a mobile laundry for the homeless.

The priority issues for Advocacy Day include:

-- The Time to Care Act, House Bill 375 and Senate Bill 211, which would create a new insurance plan to provide payments ranging from $50-$1,000 per week for up to 12 weeks for low-income workers who must take leave for a medical emergency, or to care for a new baby (due to birth, adoption or foster placement); elderly parents or family members with medical needs; or for a deploying or wounded military service member.

--  Expanded funding for the BOOST, or Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today, scholarship program, House Bill 588 and Senate Bill 491. Gov. Larry Hogan has proposed a $10 million budget for BOOST, an increase from the $7.7 million allocated in 2020. The scholarships assisted more than 2,500 students to attend nonpublic schools in the 2020-21 school year. The average household income for scholarship families was less than $36,000. The BOOST website said more than 1,300 students are on a waiting list. An exact bill number was unavailable as of Feb. 11 as the governor’s proposal was part of his overall budget.

-- SB 891 and HB 1112, which would make information about perinatal hospice easily available. As the Catholic Conference’s Advocacy Day materials say, “parents given a life-limiting diagnosis for their baby in utero, and the expectation their baby will die within hours or days of birth, often are not told about the possibility of perinatal hospice, which provides dignity, comfort and peace for the family for their baby’s life, however short. In fact, many families are told termination is their only option.” The bill would require the state Department of Health to provide current information on hospice programs for such families.

Further information about Advocacy Day is available at: www.mdcatholic.org/advocacyday.