Iowa Catholic Conference Newsletter, March 29, 2013

To: Iowa Catholic Conference Legislative Network

Thanks to the many of you who sent a message to your legislator in support of House Study Bill 225. The bill advanced out of subcommittee on Tuesday and you were very important in making that happen.

The Iowa Catholic Conference supports HSB 225 because it helps raise money for scholarships for nonpublic school students. The bill would raise the amount of tax credits for school tuition organizations (STOs) to $12 million. Our goal is $15 million or more but this bill would make for a good increase from the current amount of $8.75 million. The tax credits go to donors to scholarship funds.

If you haven’t yet had an opportunity to send a message in favor of the bill, please do so. Click this link to take you to the page where you can customize a m...

The bill is now up for consideration by the full House Ways and Means Committee. We’ll keep you posted on its progress.

The Senate's version of an education reform bill, Senate File 423, passed along party lines on Tuesday night, 26 Democrats to 23 Republicans. The bill goes to the House. The bill would increase beginning teacher's pay 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, which has already passed the House.

There were a couple of excellent last-minute amendments to the bill. Unfortunately there were ruled “not germane” to the bill, which meant they were not debated.

Amendment S-3077 by Sen. Randy Feenstra (R-Hull) would have increased the amount of tax credits for STOs to $20 million, and increased funding for transportation and technology services for nonpublic school students.

Amendment S-3076 by Sen. Jerry Behn (R-Boone) would have implemented the Education Savings Account program we have discussed in previous newsletters. The state would fund a savings account for students to attend nonpublic school or homeschool. Sen. Behn called this "the most important amendment I've ever run" in his 17 years in the Senate. Frankly, this amendment would implement systemic educational reform in Iowa. It was disappointing it didn’t get debated.

The ICC advises your support for Senate File 404, which would increase the amount of funding for “limited English proficient” learners in public schools. Currently public schools receive additional funding for four years for each of these students for whom English is not their first language; the bill would phase in a change to seven years.

Nearly five percent of students are “LEP”. In fact, they may not be literate in their language of origin. Some studies show that it might take as long as 10 years for these students to become proficient in English.

Senate File 296, a bill to expand the number of lower-income people who receive Medicaid in Iowa, passed the Senate on Monday night along party lines, 26 Democrats to 23 Republicans. The bill goes to the House and apparently will be considered alongside the governor’s alternate proposal.

Currently Medicaid is available for some very low-income families with dependent children, or pregnant women. Adults without dependent children can’t qualify.

SF 296 would provide Medicaid to an additional 150,000 low-income Iowans by expanding coverage to those who earn less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level. We advise your support of the legislation as a way to make health insurance more readily available to low-income Iowans. The underlying principle for our work is that health care is a basic human right, essential to protecting human life and dignity.

Gov. Branstad’s proposal is expected to be introduced this coming week.

The ICC has filed in opposition to House File 567. It would eliminate the requirement for the state Racing and Gaming Commission to conduct a study of the socioeconomic effects of gambling every eight years.

As always, you can find your elective representatives and send them an email through our system by going to www.capwiz.com/iowanasccd and clicking on “Elected Officials.”

RESOLUTION HONORING POPE FRANCIS

Senators David Johnson (R-Ocheyedan) and Rita Hart (D-Wheaton) have co-sponsored a resolution in the state Senate, SR-12, to commemorate the election of Pope Francis. You can see it for yourself here. The ICC appreciates their work on the resolution.

HHS MANDATE

Last month the Obama Administration issued a “proposed rule” suggesting some revisions to its contraceptive mandate.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has posted a new factsheet on its Conscience Protection page: www.usccb.org/conscience. It provides four quick reasons why the Administration's proposed revisions do not remove the burden imposed on conscience rights and religious freedom.

Public comments on the rule are due a week from Monday. You are encouraged to send in some comments by going to NCHLA's current action alert at: www.nchla.org/actiondisplay.asp?ID=292.

USCCB COMITTEE CHAIRS URGE CONGRESS TO PROTECT POOR AND VULNERABLE AS DEBATE ON BUDGET CONTINUES

The two bishops who lead the justice and peace efforts of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have urged Congress to address the moral and human dimensions of the federal budget and protect the poor. The content of the letter won’t be a surprise to those of you paying attention to the bishops’ budget messages during the past few years.

“We support the goal of reducing future unsustainable deficits, but insist that this worthy goal be pursued in ways that protect poor and vulnerable people at home and abroad,” said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Des Moines Bishop Richard E. Pates, who is chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace. They wrote a letter to Congress dated March 18.

The bishops support preserving programs that help the poor and vulnerable, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly “food stamps”), poverty-focused international assistance programs, and funding for the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program.

The bishops also offered three moral criteria to guide budgetary decisions:

Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity.

Every budget proposal should be measured by how it affects “the least of these” (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.

Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times.

“As pastors, we see every day the human consequences of budget choices. Our Catholic community defends the unborn, feeds the hungry, shelters the homeless, educates the young, and cares for the sick, both at home and abroad. We help poor families rise above crushing poverty, resettle refugees fleeing conflict and persecution, and reach out to communities devastated by wars, natural disasters and famines,” the bishops wrote.

In his Inauguration Mass, Pope Francis urged the protection of human dignity. “To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love is to open up a horizon of hope,” he said.

The full text of the bishops’ letter is available at: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/federal-budg....

AND FINALLY 

I had an opportunity to take part in a meeting Thursday with Richard Cordray, the director of the new federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Thanks to ICCI and PIRG for putting the meeting together.

The mission of the CFPG is to “make markets for consumer financial products and services work for Americans.” They enforce federal consumer financial protection laws.

Among the topics discussed were abuses that can be found in payday lending, mortgage servicing, credit cards and student loans. If you have a complaint in these areas, you can file it at www.consumerfinance.gov.

Tom Chapman

Executive Director

Iowa Catholic Conference

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