To: Iowa Catholic Conference Legislative Network
While the Iowa legislative session is slowly grinding to a conclusion some issues of interest in Washington, D.C. are heating up.
1. The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has begun the amendment process of an immigration reform bill, S. 744. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) leadership has pledged to work with Congress to pass the most humane legislation possible. You can encourage our Senators to move the process forward by sending the electronic postcard at www.justiceforimmigrants.org. Also posted on the website is a list of the amendments that the USCCB supports and opposes. Sen. Charles Grassley, as a member of the Judiciary Committee, is a key player in the process and has sponsored amendments that the USCCB opposes.
2. In addition, the Agriculture Committees of the U.S. House and Senate are working on the federal Farm Bill. The amendment process is scheduled to begin this week.
The Farm Bill is an opportunity to address outdated agriculture policies and help hungry people at home and abroad, said leaders of four Catholic organizations in May 9 letters. The letters went to leadership of the Agriculture committees of both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
The letters outlined five priorities for the Farm Bill:
“This is a crucial time to build a more just framework that puts poor and hungry people first, serves small and moderate-sized family farms, promotes sustainable stewardship of the land and helps vulnerable farmers and rural communities both at home and in developing countries,” wrote Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, California, Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, Carolyn Woo, Ph.D., president of Catholic Relief Services, and James Ennis, executive director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference.
Bishop Blaire and Bishop Pates chair the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committees on Domestic Justice and Human Development and International Justice and Peace, respectively.
For an action alert on the bill go to www.capwiz.com/catholicbishops. Now’s a great opportunity to make sure our elected officials do the best they can to show support for farmers, protect and conserve farmland, and ensure an abundant supply of affordable, healthy food.
3. There’s a new parish bulletin insert from the U.S. bishops called “Marriage and the Supreme Court.” You can find it at www.marriageuniqueforareason.org.
UPDATES FROM THE STATE CAPITOL
There’s been no further action on the human services appropriations bill, Senate File 446. We believe that making responsible budget choices requires a priority concern for people who are poor and vulnerable, including the unborn. Therefore there’s an action alert on our website in support of a tax provision that assists low-income working families, the Earned Income Tax Credit, as well as further limiting abortion funding by the state.
There’s been no movement in the Senate on House File 625, which would help Catholic schools raise money for scholarships. The bill passed the House by a vote of 96-2. It’s one of the programs I mentioned earlier that helps parents have a “real choice” in educating their children.
Sometimes issues get connected at the legislature. One of the reasons HF 625 is stalled is because public school funding levels have not been decided. While funding levels seem to be agreed to in House File 215, the “education reform” bill, other matters such as how public school teachers are evaluated, and decreased regulations for home school parents, are still contentious.
A conference committee met for the first time last week to consider Senate File 296, which addresses health care coverage for low-income Iowans. The Senate and House have passed competing proposals. I encourage you to visit our website at www.iowacatholicconference.org and click on “Statements” to see an opinion piece by the Iowa Catholic bishops on the subject. The statement includes a description of both the Senate and House plans.
In an effort to break the stalemate, the Senate Democrats have made a proposal to move toward a Republican priority and waive Medicaid co-pays if participants have an annual physical exam and make other healthy choices, such as testing for common diseases, participation in a stop-smoking program, etc. The Republicans have called this a positive concession and are reviewing the proposal.
The ICC’s priority has been to support access to quality, affordable, life-sustaining health care for all.
Senate File 452, the standings appropriations bill, has gone to a conference committee of Senate and House members for negotiations. During a debate on the bill in the Senate last week, an amendment to institute “Education Savings Accounts” failed on a tie vote. Amendment S3236, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Behn (R-Boone), would have made available about $3,700 to parents for each child attending a nonpublic school or home school. This would help parents of any income or address send their children to the school that's right for them.
If you think about it, government funding supports a variety of providers in many other areas – health care, food stamps, and Section 8 housing to name a few. Educational choice is here in Iowa on a small scale already but I think bigger changes are on the way.
Both the Senate and House versions of Senate File 452 contain one of the priorities we’ve been working on for a couple of years: an increase in the amount of funding for transportation of nonpublic school students.
We remain interested in two other issues in the bill. The Senate version contains a needed increase in the amount of funding for “English Language Learners” (ELL) 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 provide additional funding per student and extend the funding to seven years.
Unfortunately, the House version of the bill removes the ELL provision and also makes a $20 million cut to the Area Education Agencies. The AEAs provide needed services to students in all schools, including Catholic and other nonpublic schools.
I encourage you to contact legislators on the above issues. If we don’t have a specific “action alert” available, you can still send email to your legislator through our website at www.capwiz.com/iowanasccd.
HUMAN TRAFFICKING CONFERENCE
There’s still time to sign up for a conference on human trafficking, to be held at Collegiate United Methodist Church Wesley Foundation, 2622 Lincoln Way in Ames on May 31. It’s sponsored primarily by the Iowa United Methodist Women. The cost is $20.
This conference will be different than some workshops on the topic because it’s intended to provide you some concrete ways to help stop human trafficking.
To register, send a check for $20 (payable to the Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking) to: Jane Edwards, 2232 170th St., Boone, IA 50036 or e-mail information to firstname.lastname@example.org and send a check separately. The deadline for lunch reservation is May 24.
I wish you and your family many blessings on Mother's Day. Let's pray especially for those whose family situation is not what they would like it to be.
Iowa Catholic Conference