Iowa Catholic Conference - Preview of the 2014 Iowa Legislative Session

As we try to stay warm during the latest deep-freeze, here’s a couple of news items followed by our annual preview of the legislative session . . .

We were pleased that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor temporarily blocked the HHS contraceptive mandate from going into effect on Jan. 1 for the Little Sisters of the Poor religious order. The Obama Administration responded that the mandate is essential to women’s health and that the mandate did not impose a substantial burden. Stay tuned.

This week is National Migration Week. You are encouraged to take part in three advocacy activities to support humane immigration reform:

  • Tuesday, Jan. 7 - Send a JFI e-postcard for the national electronic advocacy day.
  • Wednesday, Jan. 8 - Participate in the JFI National Call-In Day to Congress. Use the toll free number, 855-589-5698, to call your Representative and ask them to “Support a path to citizenship and oppose the SAFE Act.”
  • Thursday, Jan. 9 - Post on Facebook, Tweet, and re-Tweet your support for immigrants during the JFI National Social Media Day.

LEGISLATIVE SESSION PREVIEW

Last year the legislature agreed on some contentious issues: property tax reform (the largest tax cut in Iowa’s history), education reform, and health care coverage for lower-income people. However, since this year is an election year, the legislature might be a little more reluctant to take on controversial issues. Generally the session ends a little early in an election year so candidates can get on the campaign trail.

The session begins next Monday. As it stands now, the Iowa House is controlled by Republicans, 52-47, pending a special election. Democrats control the Iowa Senate by a 26-24 margin. Divided control makes it more difficult to pass legislation through both chambers.

Another piece of the puzzle is that the 2013 General Fund budget of the state ended the fiscal year with a record surplus of nearly $928 million. The balances in the state’s two reserve funds are also at a record level of $650 million. While much of this is already spoken for (for example, many Iowans will receive a new $54 tax credit this year), it still leaves money for the legislature to consider spending and there will be no lack of ideas for that 

Among the issues we anticipate working on this year at the capitol: 

  • The Iowa Alliance for Choice in Education sponsored many meetings across the state this fall to inform nonpublic school leaders about an Education Savings Account proposal. This proposal offers true freedom of choice in education to all families. Education Savings Accounts would allow parents not enrolling their child in a public school to receive a deposit of public funds into a government-authorized savings account to be used for some tuition and other educational costs. For a video explaining ESAs, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yx1350eBtuA&feature=youtu.be. As you would expect, there has been a great deal of enthusiasm about the ESA proposal among Catholic school leaders. We have been clear to explain that this most likely will be a multi-year effort, but we are going to give it our best shot with your help. We anticipate that a new ESA bill will be filed in the Iowa House.
  • Avoiding the “cliff effect” for individuals receiving child care assistance. Currently there are circumstances where a person gets a pay raise or a new job, start making more money, and would lose all of their child care assistance, resulting in a net loss. This is a negative incentive to people improving their financial situation through work.
  • Providing for a driver’s license for undocumented immigrants. One of the main purposes of driver's licenses is to protect us from drivers who don't know how to drive or understand the rules of the road. People being granted a license after testing is a safety benefit for all of us, and an everyday necessity for many who need to keep a job. This will have a tough road but we are working with other groups to get a bill moving.
  • Regulation of abortion clinics. Iowa has no licensing or inspection of abortion clinics.
  • Reviving a bill that would restrict the shackling of pregnant inmates. The ICC has supported this bill in the past to help protect the health of the mother and child. The bill was passed unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last year and then referred back to the committee at the end of the session.
  • Increase budget allocations for textbooks and transportation for nonpublic school students.
  • As you may recall, last year the legislature increased the School Tuition Organization tax credit to $12 million for 2014. Our goal has been to get to $15 million.
  • Funding for drug courts. The goal of a “drug court” is to offer non-violent offenders with addictions an opportunity to change their lives with the help of an intensive treatment and rehabilitation program. It also allows them the opportunity to avoid prison time if successful in completing the program. Catholic Charities assists with these programs in some parts of the state. If offenders can be rehabilitated without prison this also saves the state money. Some judicial districts did not choose to fund these drug courts in the past.
  • Iowa is one of about 10 states where the mother cannot sue a negligent person for the death of her unborn baby, and we are working to change that.
  • Developing a state tax credit for adoption.

These are just a few of the items we plan to work on during the legislative session, although there are always surprises. Every legislator has his or her ideas about what is best for the people of Iowa.

In addition to working with legislators, our goal during the session is to keep you well informed about the issues of concern to the Catholic Church. This will help you in your discernment about how to get involved and when to contact your state legislators. You can have a real impact!

ICC CHANGES COMMITTEE STRUCTURE

The Iowa Catholic Conference has changed its committee structure. We have merged the Family Life, Social Concerns and Pro-Life Committees into a new Human Life and Dignity Committee. This will make it clearer that our legislative efforts are directed towards the same purpose – protecting the life and dignity of every person, from conception until natural death.

We will continue to have an Education Committee for advice on issues that relate to Catholic schools, and while we no longer will have an official Communications Committee, we will continue to collaborate with the communications staff of the dioceses.

SAVE THE DATE – RALLY FOR LIFE

The annual Rally for Life will be held Monday, Feb. 17 at St. Anthony Parish and at the state capitol. The keynote speaker will be Wesley Smith of the Discovery Institute on the topic of euthanasia. Watch this space in the coming weeks for more information.

AND FINALLY,

Please feel free to share our newsletters and ask others to join our legislative network. You can find the entire list of our legislative concerns at www.iowacatholicconference.org. We have a Facebook page and you can find us on Twitter at @iacatholicconf.

Thanks for being part of our legislative network.

Tom Chapman

Executive Director

Iowa Catholic Conference

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Tags: 2014, Iowa Catholic Conference, January, Tom Chapman

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