Iowa Catholic Conference Newsletter, Feb. 3, 2014

To: Iowa Catholic Conference Legislative Network

As expected, several bills of interest to the Catholic Conference were introduced last week. Typically we send out an action alert when a bill really needs a push one way or the other, but you don’t have to wait for us. You can always get contact information for your legislator by clicking “Action Center” at www.iowacatholicconference.org. You can also leave a message for him or her at the Capitol switchboard: Iowa House, (515) 281-3221, or the Iowa Senate, (515) 281-3371.

There was a subcommittee meeting last week on Senate File 2019, which would limit the shackling (restraint) of pregnant inmates. We support the bill for humanitarian reasons to help protect the health of the mother and child. There are exceptions in the bill for situations when the inmate poses a danger to herself or others. The Senate Judiciary Committee will be considering the bill, which was introduced by Sen. Janet Petersen (D-Des Moines).

I’ve been working with legislators regarding the proposal for an increase in the minimum wage and am hopeful to see some movement soon.

Several bills that the ICC supports were introduced in the legislature last week:

House File 2090 would authorize the state to fund an Education Savings Account for each student who would attend an accredited nonpublic school. The amount would be the average basic state aid for public school students, this year about $5,580. Those funds can cover private school tuition and fees, and/or some private instruction, tutoring or training. We believe this proposal offers true freedom of choice in education to all families. For a video explaining ESAs, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yx1350eBtuA&feature=youtu.be

Once the members of the subcommittee are assigned to the bill, we’ll let you know. The bill was introduced by Rep. Chris Hagenow (R-Windsor Heights), Rep. Jake Highfill (R-Johnston) and Rep. Peter Cownie (R-West Des Moines).

House File 2073, would prohibit the provision of abortion drugs through a videoconference. Longtime readers of this newsletter are aware of this issue, but I think it needs to be explained for our newer readers.

The “webcam” chemical abortion procedure begins with a video consultation between the physician and mother at different locations. Pills are delivered to the pregnant woman when the physician activates a switch that opens a drawer in front of the mother at a remote site. She takes the first at the doctor’s direction, during the remote interview. Another pill is taken later, at home, on a prescribed schedule. If the procedure is “successful,” the woman loses the baby in the following days.

We oppose all abortions, no matter the method, but when abortions are taking place, the safety and informed consent of the women involved should be among our chief concerns. In every case, drugs that cause a chemical abortion have serious effects. We believe the bill would help ensure that complications following the abortion will be more easily recognized. The proposed rule does not restrict other practices of telemedicine or make chemical abortions illegal in Iowa.

A subcommittee meeting on the bill is set for Wednesday. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Matt Windschitl (R-Missouri Valley) and several others.

In addition, we support House File 2082, which would provide a tax credit for parents who adopt in Iowa. Rep. Megan Hess (R-Spencer) sponsors the bill.

A new bill providing for a temporary (renewable) visitor driver’s license, Senate File 2087, has been introduced by Sen. Matt McCoy (D-Des Moines). It would make a license available for some persons without a social security number or authorization to be legally present in the United States. We think the bill would improve roadway safety by ensuring that all drivers get tested regarding their driving skills, know the rules of the road, and have access to mandatory insurance. This bill will help people get to work and provide for their families. 

In other news, House Study Bill 559 advanced out of subcommittee. The bill cleans up on some details from last year’s education reform bill. It clarifies what can be counted as instructional hours in a school, as well as allows a nonpublic school to apply for the same waiver of their annual calendar when necessary as public schools. 

State Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey testified about the state’s voluntary water quality strategy last Thursday to a joint meeting of the House Agriculture and Environmental Protection Committees. The goal of the strategy is to assess and reduce nutrients delivered to Iowa waterways and the Gulf of Mexico. These nutrients can cause problems with water quality. He emphasized the magnitude of the job ahead and noted that more matching money is necessary to encourage farmers to participate in the efforts. For more information, go to www.nutrientstrategy.iastate.edu.

FEDERAL ISSUES

The U.S. House members of the Republican Party have released their principles for immigration reform. The U.S. bishops have released a statement of appreciation that they are addressing the issue.

Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, M.Sp.S., auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Migration, expressed concern, however, about some of the principles, particularly one that would confer legal status but not a path to citizenship to the undocumented in the country.

The U.S. Catholic bishops’ Justice for Immigrants campaign will once again be encouraging contacts with Congress Feb. 18-20. The campaign is asking these two elements be included in their immigration reform principles: Include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants; and maintain family unity by preserving the family immigration system.

After months of discussion, the Farm Bill passed the House Wednesday and is set to pass the Senate this week. The chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committees on Domestic Justice and Human Development and International Justice and Peace, along with representatives of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Catholic Charities USA, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and Catholic Rural Life, responded to the agreement of the Farm Bill Conference Committee, commending their ability to set aside partisan differences to advance a farm bill.

“While we are disappointed that the final compromise continues to call disproportionately for sacrifices from hungry and poor people in this country and around the world, especially when large industrial agricultural operations continue to receive unnecessary subsidies, we are glad to see support will continue for domestic and international nutrition and development aid, rural development and conservation,” said Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

The USCCB and its Catholic partners have been vocal in their opposition to harmful cuts and changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The Farm Bill Conference Committee proposal calls for a reduction of $8.6 billion to SNAP over ten years by increasing the threshold at which persons receiving the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) may receive SNAP benefits. However, the bill does include increases for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).

Since the State of Iowa hadn’t changed the LIHEAP threshold, Iowans who receive food stamps should not be drastically affected by the cuts.

The U.S. House passed H.R. 7, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), called the bill “one small step toward a society that promotes life and not death for unborn children and their mothers.”

“It will write into permanent law a policy on which there has been strong popular and congressional agreement for over 37 years: The federal government should not use its funding power to support and promote elective abortion, and should not force taxpayers to subsidize this violence,” Cardinal O’Malley wrote.

Cardinal O’Malley noted that this consensus is reflected in the Hyde amendment and other provisions in appropriations bills, but that such measures have not prevented the Affordable Care Act of 2010 from subsidizing health plans that cover elective abortions. 

AND FINALLY,

Last week Pope Francis greeted the National Council of Anti-Usury Foundations. “I hope that these institutions may intensify their commitment alongside the victims of usury, a dramatic social ill,” he said. “When a family has nothing to eat, because it has to make payments to usurers, this is not Christian, it is not human! This dramatic scourge in our society harms the inviolable dignity of the human person.”

Tom Chapman

Executive Director

Iowa Catholic Conference

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