To: Iowa Catholic Conference Legislative Network
It would be an understatement to say it was a big week for the Catholic Church worldwide. We celebrate the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, of Argentina as the 266th pope of the Catholic Church. He has taken the name Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi.
The pope said, “For me he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and safeguards Creation. In this moment when our relationship with Creation is not so good - right? - He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … Oh, how I wish for a Church that is poor and for the poor!”
By way of contrast, it was a relatively slow week at the capitol. For one thing, Sen. Tom Courtney (D-Burlington) has been away from the capitol for a while after having heart surgery. Since the Democrats have 26 members in the Senate, and it takes 26 votes to pass a bill, nothing controversial can pass for now. We wish him the best for a quick recovery.
Last week I spent some time working with legislators in regard to House File 604, the education appropriations budget. This bill funds the Department of Education and the state universities and community colleges. In the bill there’s one line item that funds textbooks and technology for nonpublic school students.
Unfortunately, that line item was part of the across the board budget cuts made a few years ago and has never been restored. In fact, it’s lower in actual dollars than 20 years ago. We are encouraging legislators to include an increase.
This time of year many bills receive a new number after they are passed out of committee. Senate File 399 is the new number for the bill that would limit the restraint of pregnant inmates. 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. The bill has bipartisan support.
House File 555 is the new number for a bill that modifies the sentencing possibilities of a minor who commits first-degree murder. Currently anyone in Iowa who is convicted of a first-degree murder receives a life sentence without the possibility of parole. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that a state cannot require a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders.
HF 555 provides that the juvenile 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, the ICC has opposed the bill because we are encouraging the legislature to adopt a lower mandatory sentence. Many states have either prohibited a life sentence without parole or chosen a mandatory sentence of 25 years served. A requirement to serve 45 years no matter what before the possibility of parole appears to be an unduly long sentence.
The underlying principle is that we shouldn’t necessarily treat minors as if they were adults. 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.
As you know, the Conference has supported state initiatives that would make health care more readily available and affordable to all Iowans, including the expansion of Medicaid. The plan would cover Iowans who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL).
Last week the Democrats in the Senate offered a plan to pull out of an expanded Medicaid program if the federal government defaults on funding it. The governor is concerned that the federal government will not follow through on its share of the Medicaid expansion funding, and recommends a different plan that would cover uninsured Iowans under 100 percent of the federal poverty level. It is estimated that would cover about 90,000 people. Above 100 percent of FPL, Iowans would be eligible to purchase insurance in the new "exchange" or web-based health insurance marketplace.
The governor’s proposal will be introduced soon in the Iowa House. His plan would also require approval of the federal Health and Human Services Department.
The ICC advises your support of Senate File 422. It is the successor to SF 88, a bill to increase the state’s earned income tax credit (EITC). The bill passed out of the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday. This is a tax credit that mostly benefits the working poor with children. A fiscal note prepared by the Legislative Services Agency says the bill if enacted would reduce the tax liability of low-income Iowans by more than $50 million. Nearly 60 percent of households claiming the EITC had an Iowa adjusted gross income under $20,000.
An item on our legislative concerns list has been support of efforts to expand renewable sources of energy in the state. The Conference has filed in support of Senate File 414. It is a loan and grant program for small wind and solar energy projects. Nonpublic schools are specifically included as being eligible for the program. The bill passed out of the Senate Natural Resources Committee on a voice vote and has been referred to the Appropriations Committee.
Now is a good time to contact your senator in support of the legislation. You can find the complete list of legislators and their email addresses at www.legis.iowa.gov.
As Emeritus Pope Benedict has said: “[T]here is a need to encourage research into, and utilization of, forms of energy with lower impact on the environment and ‘a world-wide redistribution of energy resources, so that countries lacking those resources can have access to them.’” 2010 Message for the World Day of Peace.
The ICC is monitoring House File 478, which passed the Iowa House on Wednesday. It would provide for an alternative flat tax of 4.5 percent as an alternative to the current system of a higher tax rate and then consideration of multiple deductions and credits. Taxpayers would calculate their tax liability under both systems and choose the system that produces the lowest state income tax liability.
The Legislative Services Agency estimates the bill, if passed by both chambers and signed by the governor, would mean the state would take in about $400 to $550 million less in revenue.
The state currently has a surplus, but we encourage legislators to also consider what would this bill would mean for future budgets and any necessary services for the poor. Catholic moral teaching raises essential questions that apply to all economic policies, including taxes: 1. Does this policy maintain or enhance the life and dignity of the human person? 2. How does this policy affect the poorest and most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters?
For a perspective on taxation from the Iowa Catholic Conference, go to www.iowacatholicconference.org and click on “Statements.
The legislative discussion regarding just and compassionate immigration reform could begin in less than a month. You are encouraged to send the “Justice For Immigrants” e-postcard at www.capwiz.com/justiceforimmigrants. Also, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development has approved special grants totaling nearly $1 million to mobilize Catholics on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform and to prepare Catholic institutions for the prospects of reform legislation. For more information, visit: bit.ly/Z7SD9D.
In addition, please 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.
Don’t forget you can follow what we’re up to on a more frequent basis by checking our Twitter feed at www.twitter.com/iacatholicconf and our page on Facebook.
Iowa Catholic Conference