Mar 112009

Bishop Martin Amos speaks with legislator Jim Lykam during the annual Iowa legislative breakfast March 5.

By Barb Arland-Fye

Iowa’s four bishops traveled to Des Moines on March 5 for their annual breakfast with state legislators, a social gathering in which they share thoughts about issues.

The bishops talked about health care insurance for all children — including those whose parents immigrated to this country illegally, a cap on payday loans, restoration of funding for nonpublic school technology needs, and elimination of life sentences without the possibility of parole for minors.

Bishop Martin Amos of the Diocese of Davenport said the situation in Postville — where several hundred undocumented immigrants were arrested last May and left without the means to support their families — drew attention to children’s needs, including health care.

A provision in Senate File 48 allowing undocumented children to be eligible for hawk-i and Medicaid health insurance is being dropped from the bill, says Tom Chapman, director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, the lobbying arm for the state’s bishops and sponsor of the legislative breakfast.

“We’re talking about children. The fact that their parents are undocumented is not the fault of their children,” Bishop Amos told legislators he spoke with. “It could become more of a burden later than to not help these children with health care needs now,” he said. “We should be taking care of kids.”

As for limiting finance charges on payday loans, Bishop Amos says, “that’s a no-brainer.”

A Senate Study Bill (1269) would put a cap on interest and fees for payday loans, Chapman says. Payday loans are short-term cash advances based on the borrower’s personal check held for future deposit (the next pay day) or on electronic access to the borrower’s bank account. 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, Chapman says. The ICC is supporting three bills that deal with the issue.

Bishop Amos said borrowers need help to get out of the cycle that leaves them taking out one loan after another in a desperate attempt to pay off debt.

“That needs to be controlled so that the payday lenders are not gouging people. These people really are in need,” Bishop Amos added.

On the issue of nonpublic school funding, Bishop Amos said he supports a bill that would allow nonpublic schools the flexibility to use already appropriated textbook funds to purchase instructional technology. The bill’s opponents include the Iowa Association of School Boards and Iowa State Education Association, which oppose state funding for nonpublic school students.

Following breakfast, Bishop Richard Pates of the Diocese of Des Moines led prayers for both houses of the Iowa Legislature. Afterwards, the four bishops met with the school superintendents of their dioceses and then held a meeting of the bishops. The other bishops in attendance were Archbishop Jerome Hanus of the Archdiocese of Dubuque and Bishop R. Walker Nickless of the Diocese of Sioux City.

Then the bishops celebrated a Mass for the legislators, with Bishop Amos presiding. The bishops rotate responsibilities for leading prayer and presiding at Mass.

In his homily, Bishop Amos reflected on a story from Hebrew Scriptures about Queen Esther, who made the difficult choice of risking her life to save the lives of her fellow Jews. “It is a wonderful lesson about prayer and action,” Bishop Amos told those gathered at the Mass. Esther realized the risk involved, that she needed God’s help and that she needed to act. “She didn’t just ask God for something, but rather to give her the strength and help she needed to change something,” Bishop Amos said.

He told the legislators at the Mass, “So we continue asking for the gift of wisdom and courage for you as legislators and for ourselves.

“We keep on seeking the right to life and justice for all. We keep on knocking on the door for those weak and marginalized in our society. We keep on asking for the graces we need to keep on seeking the will of God in all things …”

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