By Tom Chapman
DES MOINES — There has been a “wait and see” attitude on budget issues at the capitol as legislators await final estimates of two sources of revenue: the federal stimulus/ recovery bill, and the state’s official quarterly revenue estimate coming March 20. When those revenue sources are known, budget bills covering the main areas of the state’s budget, such as education and human services, will begin to move.
We are working on budget issues relating to Catholic schools. Along with many other programs, the governor has proposed to cut the state’s budget for textbooks and transportation for nonpublic school students by 7.9 percent compared to last year, more than $730,000.
The first legislative funnel, March 13, brought welcome and not-so-welcome news. The funnel is the deadline for Senate bills to be reported out of Senate committees and House bills out of House committees.
• Payday loans — One of the more disappointing defeats was the failure of legislation regulating payday loans to advance. The Iowa Catholic Conference, along with several other groups, supported legislation to put a 36 percent cap on payday loans, technically known as delayed deposit service transactions. In practice, Iowans who use this service take out an average of 12 loans in a year and end up paying 350 to 400 percent in interest and fees. In politics, however, few defeats are final. We will continue to try and add language regulating payday loans to another bill.
• Pro-life legislation — Bills that failed to advance and that were supported by the Iowa Catholic Conference included House File 231, reporting of abortion complications; House File 323, the “Woman’s Right to Know Act,” providing for an informed consent process before an abortion; and House File 567, which would have prohibited the granting of state funds to entities that provide or are affiliates of organizations that provide abortions.
• Marriage Law — Senate File 353, which did not advance, would have repealed Iowa’s marriage law and legalized same-sex marriage. The Iowa Catholic Conference opposed the bill. We await the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision on a challenge to current law which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.
• Juvenile parole — A bill that would have eliminated the sentence of life without the possibility of parole for minors in the state of Iowa also failed to advance. With the bill, a life sentence given to a juvenile could have been reviewed after 15 years. We believe that minors’ culpability is lessened due to age.
• Child labor law — File 618 passed the House 97-0 on March 12 and goes to the Senate. The bill, which stems from concerns raised by the immigration raid in Postville last spring, strengthens penalties for violations of child labor and wage payment collection law. The Iowa Catholic Conference supports the bill because it would help protect all workers. Trials for some of those affected by the raid in Postville have now been pushed back to November and December, more than 18 months after the raid. Many are dependent on charity. For more information about the continuing needs, visit www.postvillestbridget.org.
• Local food — We support Senate File 404, which would create a temporary “local food and farm task force” to create policy recommendations for expanding and supporting local food systems and overcoming obstacles to local food production. We believe that local and sustainable food production can be a part of “food security,” where nutritious food is available for everyone. Improved local food systems could also help reduce impacts from transportation and keep people living on the land in rural areas of Iowa.
• CAFOs — We are working to advance to the floor House Study Bill 168 that would require county boards of supervisors to conduct a public hearing on any application for a large Confined Animal Feeding Operation.
• Health care — Our main interest in the health care reform bill, Senate File 389, has been the provisions relating to children’s health care. The bill is currently eligible to be debated on the Senate floor. Among other things, the bill allows for reimbursement for translation and interpretation services under Medicaid and hawk-i, and creates a dental-only option in hawk-i for children who have medical but not dental coverage. It also would help the unborn children of low-income mothers by expanding coverage for pregnant women.
Eligibility for coverage of undocumented children was taken out of the bill before it went to committee.
Another part of Senate File 389 would create the “Iowa Choice Insurance Exchange” to work with insurance companies to create new and affordable private health insurance plans that would be available to anyone. The insurance plans would have to be approved by the legislature in 2010 before they could be implemented.
“Cover the Uninsured Week” is coming up soon: March 22-28, 2009. The nation has begun a vigorous debate and this is an opportune time to begin praying, learning and advocating for health care reform. To learn about Catholic teaching on health care reform in detail, go to www.usccb.org/sdwp/national/comphealth.shtml.
(Chapman is executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.)