Iowa Catholic Conference Newsletter - April 21, 2013

To: Iowa Catholic Conference Legislative Network

The reimbursement of daily expenses for Iowa legislators runs out a week from Friday. Sometimes this means the end of the session is very near. This year, several issues of contention including health care, education reform and property taxes are making it seem like the end of the session is still a ways off.

Please take note of our current action alerts by visiting www.iowacatholicconference.org and click on “Take Action.”

UPDATES ON BILLS

On a positive note, House File 625 passed out of subcommittee last week and is eligible to be considered by the full Senate Ways and Means Committee. The subcommittee of Senators Joe Seng (D-Davenport), Sen. Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids) and Sen. Randy Feenstra (R-Hull) all supported the bill. This bill is one of our main priorities for the session.

HF 625 increases the amount of tax credits for school tuition organizations (STOs) to $12 million (from $8.75 million). The tax credits help raise money for scholarships to attend nonpublic schools. The bill also allows LLCs and S-Corps to become eligible donors to the STO program.

Only those students from families whose income is 300 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) or less can qualify for these scholarships. We estimate the bill will help thousands of additional parents to be able to afford the school of their choice for their children.

The Medicaid discussion continued at the legislature last week with a public hearing and another subcommittee meeting in the House. Medicaid is a public health insurance program for some low-income people. Currently Medicaid is only available to some very low-income adults with dependents or a disability. Single adults don’t qualify.

The Senate has passed a bill to extend Medicaid to all whose income is less than 138 percent of FPL (those above 138 percent of FPL would get tax credits to buy private insurance).

The House is working from the governor's "Healthy Iowa" proposal that would cover those under 100 percent of FPL with fewer benefits than Medicaid (those above 100 FPL would get tax credits to buy private insurance).

The Iowa Catholic Conference has supported expanding Medicaid as a step in the right direction and at the same time is suggesting improvements to the governor's plan.

One specific item we are working to change in the House bill is to include coverage for refugees and long-term lawful permanent residents as does Medicaid. The Healthy Iowa plan only includes citizens.

Keep in mind that any plan must be approved by both chambers and signed by the governor. We need to keep encouraging our leaders to take action since the current IowaCare limited benefits program is expiring. This advice is based on a principle of the Catholic Church that health care is a basic human right. We should not miss the opportunity to help Iowans access the health care they need to thrive.

It looks like there is some progress on the education reform bill, House File 215. A conference committee has been meeting to work on the bill, which would increase beginning teachers' pay and create a new career pathway program for public school teachers. Conferees appear to agree on the Iowa Learning Online initiative, Teach Iowa, and several funding items. They are now discussing additional policy items, including some related to home schooling and accreditation. The ICC is monitoring the legislation.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee passed Senate Study Bill 1250 last week by a vote of 8 to 6. The bill restricts interest rates for payday loans in Iowa to 36 percent. The ICC supports the bill as we believe current interest rates of 300 percent are unjust. It's important to send a message to your Senator to help the bill advance. The new number for the bill is Senate File 450.

During debate on the state’s human services budget, the Senate voted on a last-minute amendment filed by Sen. Amy Sinclair (R-Allerton) and others to prevent government family planning funds from going to abortion providers. The amendment would have further restricted government funding for payment of abortions to only pay for abortions when the life of the mother was endangered. The amendment lost 24-23 but we appreciate the effort 

NATIONAL ISSUES

The introduction of U.S. Senate bipartisan legislation to reform the U.S. immigration system was welcomed by Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration. Archbishop Gomez pledged that the U.S. bishops would carefully examine the legislation and work with Congress to ensure that any final measure respects the basic human rights and dignity of migrants.

In their 2003 pastoral letter, “Strangers No Longer:  Together on the Journey of Hope,” the U.S. bishops outlined several goals for immigration reform, which include: 

  • A path to citizenship for the undocumented that is achievable, set within a reasonable time frame and includes the maximum number of persons;
  • The protection and enhancement of the family-based immigration system—based on the union of a husband and a wife and their children—including the reduction of backlogs and the shortening of waiting times;
  • A program which allows low-skilled migrant workers to enter and work in the United States legally and safely, includes appropriate wage and worker protections, allows for family unity, and provides workers the option to apply for permanent residency and eventual citizenship;
  • The restoration of due process protections for immigrants removed by the 1996 Illegal Immigrant Responsibility and Immigration Reform Act;
  • The adoption of policies which address the root causes, or push factors, of irregular migration, such as persecution and the absence of living wage jobs in sending communities.
  • The protection of other vulnerable populations, including refugees, asylum-seekers, and unaccompanied children.

The U.S. bishops’ conference plans to release more information on its position on the legislation this week.

In other news, the chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) expressed “deep disappointment in the Senate’s failure to support reasonable regulations to reduce gun violence in our nation” in an April 18 letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“The USCCB has been working with other faith leaders and organizations urging Congress to support legislation that builds a culture of life by promoting policies that reduce gun violence and save people’s lives in homes and communities throughout our nation,” wrote Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, California. “In the wake of tragic events such as the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, the failure to support even modest regulations on firearms is a failure in moral leadership to promote policies which protect and defend the common good.”

Additional information on the U.S. bishops’ advocacy on gun violence prevention is available online: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/criminal-jus....

AND FINALLY,

With the terrible news coming out of Boston and Waco last week, and the occasional legislative frustrations, it is easy to get discouraged and lose hope. However, we can take heart in the Scriptures: “Wait for the LORD, take courage; be stouthearted, wait for the LORD!” Psalm 27:14

Tom Chapman

Executive Director

Iowa Catholic Conference

 

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