Iowa Catholic Conference Newsletter, April 6, 2014

To: Iowa Catholic Conference Legislative Network

Budget bills are being considered in both chambers of the Iowa Legislature and that’s usually a sign that the end of the session is not too far away. 

In news regarding our current action alerts:

  • The Senate Appropriations Committee has passed the $986 million budget bill for the state Department of Education and the state universities. Senate File 2347 contains a $50,000 increase for textbooks/technology for nonpublic school students, for a total of $650,000. We are still advocating to get this funding back to where it was before across-the-board cuts made several years ago (about $700,000). Sen. Roby Smith (R-Davenport) and Rep. Cecil Dolecheck (R-Mount Ayr) have been helpful on this issue.
  • There’s been no movement lately on SF 2270, a bill to fund training for refugees. If it doesn’t pass this year, we’ll be working with other advocates to improve the bill for next year.

In other news from last week, House File 2450, the justice appropriations bill, passed the House. We are pleased that it includes funding intended to support the continued operation of drug courts. Rep. Chuck Isenhart (D-Dubuque) offered an amendment to specify that the extra money would in fact be spent on the drug courts. The amendment failed, although it was helpful for legislators to hear his explanation of the issue. To be clear, the money that’s in the budget should still be spent on the drug courts - we'll just have to keep an eye on implementation.

The Senate refused to go along with the House’s changes to Senate File 2251. The Senate bill allows recipients of child care assistance to count both work and school hours (rather than only one or the other) towards a “28-hour” requirement. Because of budget concerns, the House had narrowed the “work and school” rule changes to become a pilot program in four counties. It remains to be seen whether the chambers can agree on a bill. In our opinion the work and school change would be helpful statewide. 

The Senate amended the House amendment to SF 2311, a bill to address human trafficking in Iowa. The two chambers are getting closer to an agreement, but we don’t know yet if an agreement will be reached on this bill either. In our view, the most important section that is common to both the House and Senate is a provision that allows the referral of a prostitute who is a juvenile to the state Department of Human Services (DHS) for assistance, rather than being prosecuted. It would support county attorneys in having a stronger legal basis to make a referral to DHS.

The ICC is monitoring Senate Study Bill 3214, which passed a Senate Ways and Means subcommittee. The bill regulates debit cards/pay cards as a relatively new method of payment for wages. Unfortunately, abuses are taking place. Some workers are reporting getting shorted on their pay, not receiving pay stubs and being required to pay sizable fees to find out how much money is on the pay card. Many of these abuses are already against the law.

Pay cards are not bad in and of themselves, however, they seem to be more opaque to users and may be more easily abused by some unscrupulous employers. Our main message in the subcommittee meeting was that workers must be paid what they’re due. There wasn't much opposition expressed to the bill as business groups testified that most businesses are following the “best practices” found in SSB 3214 already.

A new bill to provide a tax credit for adoptive parents has been introduced in the House Ways and Means Committee. House Study Bill 686 would provide a refundable state tax credit of $2,500 for adoption expenses. It’s similar to a bill we supported that did not advance earlier this session. The previous bill had offered a bigger tax credit for hard to place children but a definition of that category proved too complicated.

INTERNATIONAL FOOD AID 

Food is a basic need and a fundamental human right; yet there are more than 842 million children, women and men who are hungry in the world. Right now, members of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture are making important decisions about how the United States will respond to hunger around the world. Catholic Relief Services is asking us to contact our members of Congress and ask them to:

  • Support the Food for Peace development programs that provide food assistance to poor and vulnerable communities. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is suggesting a minimum of $1.55 billion for fiscal year 2015 and flexibility in the way these resources are used.
  • Help people who are hungry get local, nutritious food through the Local and Regional Procurement (LRP) program, authorized by the Farm Bill at $80 million for fiscal year 2015.

We can marshal our public and private resources in response to Pope Francis’ call to end hunger and truly make a significant difference. Send a message through this link: Raise your voice today to Set the Table to End Hunger

AND FINALLY,

Last Wednesday, Catholic Charities USA and other non-profit partner organizations hosted a National Poverty Summit in Washington, D.C. CEOs from national organizations, Congressional representatives from both political parties, and people from all walks of life joined together in the same room for a day to discussion about building common ground and highlighting innovative ideas during this 50th-anniversary year of our nation's "War on Poverty." Attendees were encouraged to support innovative initiatives seeking to reform the way we deliver anti-poverty services. For a recap of the event, visit the CCUSA Newsroom.

 

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