Iowa Catholic Conference Newsletter, March 10, 2013

To: Iowa Catholic Conference Legislative Network

Last Friday was the funnel date when all non-money bills had to get out of committee to stay alive for the session. Here’s what happened last week on some issues of interest …

EDUCATION

The annual Education Celebration celebrating Iowa’s nonpublic schools was held in the capitol’s rotunda last Wednesday. It was great to hear from Robert Enlow, president of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, and be a part of several meetings with legislators. We appreciate the legislators who spoke in favor of options for families in education: Sen. Jeff Danielson (D-Cedar Falls) and House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer (R-Clear Lake).

Along those lines, we were pleased to see that Senate File 323 was introduced last week by Sen. Jerry Behn (R-Boone) and several others. It would offer “education savings grants” for children to attend nonpublic schools. The state would deposit around $4,000 into a government-authorized savings accounts to cover private school tuition or homeschooling expenses for all parents who are interested.

The Iowa Catholic Conference believes it’s time for parents of K-12 students to have the maximum number of options for their child’s educational development. The education savings grants would level the playing field for parents who lack the resources to make changes in their child’s education or who feel stuck in underperforming schools.

If you are concerned about the proposal’s effect on the local public school there’s some good information at www.edchoice.org/School-Choice/School-Choice-FAQs.aspx.

While SF 323 was introduced too late to beat the funnel deadline, it is a good conversation starter about the direction we are taking in making sure that every parent has a true opportunity to send their child to the school of their choice.

The ICC supports a new bill introduced in the House by Rep. Tedd Gassman (R-Scarville) would increase the amount of tax credits for donors to current scholarship programs for Catholic and other nonpublic school students. House File 466 would increase the amount of tax credits statewide from $8.75 to $15 million. Since it’s a Ways and Means bill, it’s not affected by the funnel deadline. We’ll keep you posted.

In other education news, the Senate’s version of an education reform bill moved out of committee this week. We are monitoring the legislation. The bill would increase beginning teacher’s pay to $35,000 and require school districts to implement a new career pathway program for teachers. The Senate version also includes more funding for public schools than the governor’s plan.

FAMILY LIFE

House Joint Resolution 11, the House’s version of an amendment to recognize marriage as a union of one man and one woman, was introduced last week but didn’t advance.

The U.S. Supreme Court has taken up cases regarding California’s marriage amendment and the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Depending on how the Court rules this June, it will give new energy to legislative efforts to recognize marriage between a man or a woman, or, much like “Roe v. Wade” on the abortion issue, make it difficult to advance such measures.

A bill to legalize Internet poker is apparently dead for the session. The ICC opposes the bill because it would present such a big expansion of gambling beyond 21 casinos in the state. Legalizing gambling in more than 1.2 million Iowa households and beyond would be a quantum leap.

PRO-LIFE

Thanks for the many messages that were sent last week in support of the webcam abortion ban, House File 173. I had one legislator tell me he got "20,000 emails overnight." While that is a big exaggeration, we did have a lot of messages sent through our system. Unfortunately, the bill did not get a vote in the full House Human Resources Committee and is dead for the year. The bill would have restricted abortions currently done over a videoconference by ensuring that the physician was physically present with the woman. Currently, during an office visit and video consultation with a physician at a different location, two abortion pills are delivered to the pregnant woman by activating a remote control switch that opens a drawer in front of her.

We oppose all abortions, no matter the method. However, webcam abortions are particularly impersonal and disturbing. They are potentially harmful to the woman’s life and health. The webcam abortions are also a profit center for the abortion industry.

So the question should be raised – why did a bill whose passage in other states was considered a pro-life victory die in the funnel? Well, first, the Democratic-majority Senate did not take up the bill at all. In the Republican-majority House, there are a few Republican legislators who will not support any abortion-restriction legislation unless it attempts to ban all abortions without exception. That means that HF 173 could not pass the House. It was disappointingly a textbook case of the “perfect being the enemy of the good.”

Two new bills, House Study Bill 205 (committee bill by Chairman Tom Sands, R-Wapello) and Senate File 267 by Senator Joe Seng (D-Davenport), would offer tax credits for donors to a nonprofit organization doing research in regenerative medicine. We support such research when it is done in an ethical way without destroying embryos. As drafted the legislation would help raise money for the John Paul II Medical Research Institute in Coralville.

SOCIAL CONCERNS

Senate File 134 (introduced by Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque), passed out of the Senate Human Resources Committee. It would limit the restraint of pregnant inmates as has been done in several other states. The ICC supports the bill to help protect the health of the mother and child. Now we need to get the bill to the Senate floor – please use the action alert on our website to encourage your Senator.

Senate File 88 advanced out of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. We support the bill as it increases the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit. It is a great tax break for working families.

Two immigrant-related bills the ICC supported did not make it out of committee: Senate File 80 and Senate File 283. Senate File 80 is the state version of the Dream Act, which would provide in-state tuition rates (not free college tuition) for all long-time residents of Iowa. Senate File 283 would have authorized a limited driver's license to those without a social security number or authorized presence, but had a valid passport or consular identification document. Both bills had been advanced out of subcommittee.

House Study Bill 105 advanced out of the House Judiciary Committee. This bill would modify the sentencing possibilities of a minor who commits first-degree murder. The murderer could receive a life sentence without parole or receive a sentence of 45 years served. Since it allows for a sentence other than life without parole, it is a small step in the right direction.

However, a sentence of 45 years served is not really a meaningful opportunity for release. We will continue to encourage the legislature to consider a lesser number of years before consideration of parole.

The Church supports eliminating the sentence of life without parole for juveniles as we believe that a juvenile who commits a crime may not have the benefit of a fully-formed conscience, and therefore, their culpability may be lessened. Years down the road, they should have an opportunity to be considered for parole.

The bill that would expand Medicaid in Iowa received a new number after passing out of committee. It’s Senate File 296. It would offer Medicaid for all Iowans whose income is lower than 138 perfect of the federal poverty level (about $15,000 for a single person). The federal government covers 100 percent of the costs for the first few years and then 90 percent after that.

The Medicaid expansion would provide coverage to about 150,000 additional Iowans. The ICC has supported the expansion as a way to help additional low-income Iowans to get health insurance. Our Catholic tradition teaches that health care is a basic human right, essential to protecting human life and dignity. You can encourage the legislature to move the bill forward by going to our website at www.iowacatholicconference.org and clicking on “Take Action.”

Governor Branstad does not support the Medicaid expansion proposal because of concerns about the federal government’s ability to pay. The governor announced his own “Healthy Iowans” plan last week that would cover all uninsured Iowans under 100 percent of the federal poverty level. It is estimated that would cover about 90,000 people. The plan would include co-pays for recipients. Above 100 percent of poverty, Iowans would be eligible to purchase insurance in the new “exchange” or web-based health insurance marketplace.

As opposed to the “Medicaid expansion” proposal, the Healthy Iowans plan would have to be approved by the federal Health and Human Services Department before it would go into effect. The federal match rate would be a little less than 60 percent, versus 90 percent for the full Medicaid expansion. So the Healthy Iowans plan would cost more for the state budget over the next several years.

This is a very important debate for low-income Iowans. The current IowaCare program which provides limited benefits to about 65,000 people expires this fall. For the governor and the legislature to do nothing is unacceptable.

The ICC is monitoring HF 478, which would provide for an alternative flat income tax. You can read the Conference’s previous statement on taxation on our website by clicking on “Statements.” Those who are poor should not pay a disproportionate amount of income in the sum total of taxes paid. This is especially true in the case of property and sales tax, which can take proportionally more from what is needed to pay for a family’s necessities.

FIGHT THE HHS MANDATE

Now’s the time to ask Congress to support H.R. 940, the Health Care Conscience Rights Act. You can visit www.capwiz.com/catholicbishops to send a message. This new bill would protect religious freedom and rights of conscience.

Thanks in large part to your previous messages, last week, Rep. Diane Black and fifty other House members introduced a new bill called the “Health Care Conscience Rights Act,” H.R. 940, which would protect Americans’ First Amendment rights by providing a full exemption for all those whose religious beliefs run counter to the HHS mandate. The bill would also protect institutions and individuals from forced participation in abortion.

Join with us in calling on Congress to protect the right of all people and groups to participate in life-affirming health care - without violating their consciences. Thank you for taking action in support of life and liberty.

P.S. - Text the word FREEDOM to 377377 for mobile updates.

AND FINALLY,

The conclave to elect a new pope will begin Tuesday. I hope we can all take some time to pray for the cardinals as they continue their discernment process.

Tom Chapman
Executive Director
Iowa Catholic Conference

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