Building the Domestic Church While Strengthening Our Parish

Iowa Catholic Conference Newsletter, April 16, 2017

Although the state legislature may be moving towards adjournment in the next week or two, there are still several issues where your input can make a difference.

Thanks for your contacts last week with legislators in support of mental health funding reform. House Study Bill 194 passed the House Ways and Means Committee unanimously. If you haven’t sent a message yet, your help would be appreciated in bringing this issue to the attention of legislators. For background information with a sample message to your legislator go here: https://www.votervoice.net/ICC/campaigns/51508/respond

The ICC is supporting a sustainable funding stream for Iowa’s regional mental health care system. In 1996, as part of an effort to shift mental health funding from counties to the state budget, the legislature imposed a cap on the total dollar amount in property taxes that counties could levy for mental health and intellectual/developmental disability services.

House Study Bill 194 does not remove the dollar cap but contributes towards solving the issues by equalizing county levies within regions.

The 20-week abortion restriction bill, Senate File 471, is still in the Senate after the House passed the bill with some changes. As far as we can tell the Senate plans to take up the bill this week. Here’s our current action alert – you can send a message to your senator in support of the bill: https://www.votervoice.net/ICC/campaigns/51486/respond. If the Senate passes the bill as is, it goes to the governor.

The Iowa Catholic Conference supports an increase in the state's minimum wage, currently set at $7.25. The minimum wage in Iowa has fallen behind other nearby states. Here’s a sample message to your legislators: https://www.votervoice.net/ICC/campaigns/50082/respond. A minimum wage is certainly not a living wage but it contributes to the support of many families.  There’s still an opportunity to add this provision to a budget bill.

In last week’s legislative action …

We were disappointed by the Iowa Senate’s taking up Senate File 481 off the unfinished business calendar last week. The bill passed by a bipartisan vote of 32-15. SF 481 was then sent to the House to the Public Safety Committee, where it is dead for the year because of a legislative deadline.

Senate File 481 requires law enforcement agencies to honor any immigration detainer request from the federal government, even those without a criminal warrant attached. This would be a significant change of practice for many local law enforcement staff. Courts have held that detainers are merely non-binding requests.

As the Polk County sheriff has said, “The confusion occurs in two ways. First, it is not a violation of the criminal code to be undocumented or in common parlance, ‘illegal.’ Rather, it is a federal administrative rule violation. Local law enforcement does not, despite what some may think, enforce federal administrative rule violations … The second confusion comes when ICE requests that we routinely hold a person beyond the resolution of the charges they were arrested for. We believe such an action to be illegal and a violation of that person’s rights.”

We do not believe that an escalation of immigrant detention and intensive use of local enforcement in communities is the way to achieve compassionate and merciful reform of our immigration system.

The legislature gave final approval to House File 516, which will require the verification of a voter’s identity before voting. Little evidence of voter impersonation in Iowa has been presented.

The state is budgeting about $700,000 for implementation of the bill. One new cost is to send voter identification cards to registered voters who don’t have a photo ID.

The bill reduces the number of days to vote absentee from 40 to 29. A Legislative Services Agency report said that, based on the current available information, the impact of HF 516 on voting by minorities cannot be determined.

Several budget bills have begun to move through the Iowa Legislature. Almost every departmental budget bill is seeing a cut this year because of lower state revenue estimates. The legislature’s leadership has announced plans for a general fund budget for FY 2018 of about $7.245 billion, a little less than this year’s budget.

The human services budget bill would appropriate $1.76 billion, a cut of about $28 million. As expected, the bill includes a state-funded family planning program intended to duplicate a current federal/state program. The main change from current practice is that abortion providers would not be able to receive funding.

While the ICC does not necessarily support the funding of all the family planning services that might be offered by the state, we believe that public funds should not subsidize the abortion business when there are many other health care providers available. Abortion is a direct assault on human life and dignity, and abortion clinics do not provide a wide continuum of medical care. (The State of Iowa already has a policy of not paying for abortions with government funds.)

Among many other provisions, the bill also contains:

  • a one-third cut to the RefugeeRISE program from $300,000 to $200,000. The program helps provide job readiness skills to refugees and helps families navigate the challenges in their new country.
  • The removal of a three-month retroactive period to become eligible for Medicaid
  • $7 million increase for child care assistance
  • a one-year pause in a medical residency program

An item of interest in the education appropriations bill is the annual allocation for textbooks to be used by nonpublic school students. The local public school district purchases the books. The budgeted amount of about $650,000 stays the same. That number represents a little less than $20 for each student in Iowa’s accredited nonpublic schools.

The justice system budget bill appropriates $3 million less than last year. We are pleased it retains current legal language that states it is the intent of the legislature for several judicial districts to maintain their drug courts.

However, these and other specialty courts, such as those serving people with mental health issues, are in danger. Like family budgets, state department budgets can only go so far when they’re being cut. Specialty courts cost more up front but the fiscal studies are clear they are saving the state money in future incarceration costs.

The goal of a drug court is to offer non-violent offenders with addictions an opportunity to change their lives with the help of an intensive treatment and rehabilitation program. The offender can avoid prison time if successful in completing the program. Catholic Charities assists with these programs in some parts of the state.

The justice system bill also includes a $1.5 million reduction (out of about $30 million) to the state’s victim assistance program.

To send a message to your legislator on these or any other issues, go to our Action Center and put in your street address to find your legislator.

FEDERAL ISSUES

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has re-issued its action alert in support of the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act (CWPIA). The bill is intended to protect the religious liberties of child welfare service providers, including adoption and foster care agencies. The Inclusion Act has been introduced in both the House (H.R. 1881) and the Senate (S. 811). Go to https://votervoice.net/USCCB/Campaigns for more information.

And finally,

Go our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/iowacatholicconference for legislative updates. Our page also includes some photos from last week’s Iowa Religious Freedom Day event at the state capitol. 

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