Iowa Catholic Conference Newsletter - 3 February 2013

To: Iowa Catholic Conference Legislative Network

Some breaking news from Friday . . . The Obama Administration announced a proposal for new rules related to the “HHS mandate,” which would require many religious organizations to provide insurance coverage for contraception. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is studying the proposal and I anticipate there will be a response in the coming week.

Inside the state capitol, there are several bills of interest that are moving. We have three action alerts on our website and may be adding some others in the coming days as events warrant.

Please visit our Action Center and send a message to your legislator on some issues of interest, including:

Senate File 76 - oppose the reinstatement of the death penalty

Senate File 80 – support the state DREAM Act

Support expansion of Medicaid

Senate File 76 was introduced this week. We recommend your opposition to the bill, which would reinstate the death penalty in Iowa for certain capital crimes. The Iowa Legislature abolished the death penalty in 1965 but imposes a life sentence without the possibility of parole for murderers.

The Catholic Church teaches that the use of the death penalty is unnecessary in today’s society. The Catholic bishops of the United States have been calling for an end to the use of the death penalty for more than 25 years. We believe that life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is sufficient punishment for the offender and offers protection for society.

Pope Benedict said in Benin, Africa, on Nov. 19, 2011: “Society’s leaders should make every effort to eliminate the death penalty and to reform the penal system in a way that ensures respect for the prisoners’ human dignity.”

In addition, the imposition of the death penalty has proven extremely expensive in other states. Additionally, since 2000, about five persons a year on death row have been found innocent because of DNA and other evidence.

For more information, see section 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. You can also view the Iowa bishops’ two statements opposing the death penalty by clicking “Statements” at www.iowacatholicconference.org.

The Iowa Catholic Conference supports the state DREAM Act, which was also introduced last week. Senate File 80 would allow Iowa high school graduates who have been residents of Iowa for five years to be eligible for in-state tuition rates at community colleges and state universities. This policy would include immigrant students without legal status. It does not offer free college tuition to anyone.

The premise of the Iowa version of the Dream Act is that immigrant youth should not be hindered from working towards a more promising future solely because they were brought to the United States by their parents at a young age without legal status. Young people are helpful for counteracting the serious demographic and workforce challenges we face in Iowa.

Early last week, the Iowa Catholic Conference was part of a group of about 50 organizations including the Iowa Hospital Association encouraging the legislature to accept the federal funds for the expansion of Medicaid. The expansion would help nearly 150,000 low-income Iowans (at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level) receive health insurance. For a single adult, that income limit would be $14,856.

Our Catholic tradition teaches that health care is a basic human right, essential to protecting human life and dignity. Just two months ago, Pope Benedict told a meeting of health care workers that good health is a benefit that needs to be defended and guaranteed for all people, not just for those who can afford it.

Expanding Medicaid will help Iowans who’ve lost their jobs or are struggling in jobs without health benefits get access to quality care. It should reduce costly emergency room visits too.

The main opposition comes from those who are concerned about the federal government’s ability to fulfill its promise to fund the vast majority of the expansion. The federal government has significant budget challenges and if they don’t come through, changes would have to be made in Iowa’s programs.

We look forward to working with legislators as they make important choices on how to strengthen and improve health care in the state.

The Rally for Life will be held Monday, Feb. 18 at the capitol. We’ll have a short legislative workshop at 1 p.m. in Room 102 at the Capitol (the old Supreme Court consultation room), followed by time for lobbying. The keynote speaker in the rotunda at 3 p.m. will be Dan McConchie from Americans United for Life. The rally is sponsored by many prolife groups including the Iowa Catholic Conference.

The Conference is opposing House Study Bill 11, which would eliminate the current 90-day waiting period before a divorce upon the agreement of the two parties.

A waiting period can give both parties the opportunity to really think about the impact of divorce and help insure that all issues have time to be addressed. Recent research done in Minnesota, for example, found that for at least 40 percent of couples, at least one spouse was interested in possibly reconciling. Every attorney I’ve spoken with has told me that some couples reconcile during the divorce process.

Further, as has been shown, women and especially children often suffer economically and in other ways after a divorce. This is properly a concern of the state. We believe that eliminating the waiting period, even at the agreement of both parties, is a step in the wrong direction. There is still a provision for granting a divorce decree more quickly on grounds of “emergency or necessity.”

A new bill has been filed regarding the shackling of pregnant inmates, House Study 95. We are supporting the bill and there is already a subcommittee meeting on Monday. The Iowa Catholic Conference recommends your support for the bill for humanitarian reasons as the prisoner poses little risk for escape and it contains exceptions if the public is at risk. Shackling of the inmate can reduce the physician’s ability to evaluate the physical condition of the mother and the fetus, and similarly make the labor and delivery process more difficult than it needs to be. Restraining pregnant prison inmates increases the potential for physical harm from an accidental trip or fall.

A committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has endorsed the principles of a national campaign to end the practice of sentencing people under the age of 18 to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development agreed to endorse the Statement of Principles for the Fair Sentencing of Youth at their December 2012 meeting.

“While there is no question that violent and dangerous youth need to be confined for their safety and that of society, the USCCB does not support provisions that treat children as though they are equal to adults in their moral and cognitive development,” said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, California, chairman of the committee.

The federal government and 38 states, including Iowa, allow youth convicted of a crime to be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Currently, over 2,500 youth are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. African American youth are sentenced to life without parole as children at a per capita rate that is 10 times that of white youth convicted of the same crimes. The United States is the only country that imposes this sentence upon children.

Senate Study Bill 1089, introduced last week, would reduce the sentence in Iowa for minors from life in prison for murder in the first degree, to a minimum term of confinement of 45 years.

We believe that offenders who commit very serious crimes when they are juveniles may gain, with maturity, an understanding of the gravity of their crime and be able to rejoin society under some conditions. However, a requirement to serve 45 years no matter what before the possibility of parole appears to be an unduly long sentence. In fact, SSB 1089 would allow the court to still set a life sentence if there are “substantial and compelling” reasons.

Senate File 88 was introduced last week. It would raise the state earned income tax credit (EITC) from seven percent to 20 percent of the federal credit. The EITC benefits the working poor and we support the bill.

NATIONAL ISSUES

News on two postcard campaigns:

A bipartisan group of eight Senators proposed a framework for comprehensive immigration reform legislation last week and President Obama outlined his vision of immigration reform. The U.S. Catholic bishops’ Justice for Immigrants campaign is asking us to send electronic postcards in favor of compassionate immigration reform. Go to www.justiceforimmigrants.org for more information. We anticipate there will also be meetings with local staff for Iowa’s members of Congress.

The U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities and the U.S. Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, with the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment, are co-sponsoring the “Project Life and Liberty” postcard campaign. Many places are kicking off the campaign next week. You can download the postcards at www.nchla.org.

The need for concerned citizens to speak out is greater than ever. It’s always a good time to encourage our federal elected officials to support and strengthen existing laws against government funding and promotion of abortion, and to improve protection for religious freedom.

AND FINALLY,

Last week was Catholic Schools Week. Check out our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/iowacatholicconference for photos of the proclamation signing in the governor’s office.

Tom Chapman

Executive Director

Iowa Catholic Conference

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