By Tom Chapman
(The following is an update from the Iowa Catholic Conference.)
The 2010 Legislative Session is flying by and there is a lot of news to cover this week. Because of the shortened schedule, Feb. 12, is the final date for Senate bills to be reported out of Senate committees and House bills out of House committees. Otherwise the bill is dead for the year unless it is brought forward by leadership or is an Appropriation or Ways and Means bill. Your contacts will be important to help legislators determine what bills should go forward and which should not. Watch our Action Center for further developments and alerts.
Governor’s budget message
Governor Chet Culver has released his proposed budget of about $5.3 billion for fiscal year 2011. To help balance the budget, the governor’s budget uses about $200 million in reserves in addition to about $50 million of leftover federal stimulus funds.
The budget includes funding 2 percent “allowable growth” and the restoration of $100 million to public schools. In addition, the budget assumes about $341 million in first-year savings from a governmental efficiency plan. The governor does not propose to increase state taxes.
The governor also called on the legislature to act on the recommendations of the Tax Credit Review Panel, which will save $52 million (about a 10 percent cut in the amount of tax credits now offered by the state). Part of that savings would include cutting back on tax credits for donations made for Educational Opportunity scholarships for low-income children to attend the school of their choice. We are working to keep the status quo for that program. We believe cutting that program would cost the state money.
In terms of other support for nonpublic school children, the governor proposes textbook funding of $625,634, an 11 percent increase from what is estimated to be spent in the current fiscal year. He proposes $7 million for transportation services, the same as the current fiscal year.
Republican leadership believes the proposed budget will result in local property tax increases to pay for K-12 school expenditures.
Regulation of payday loans
A group of 34 Democrats introduced House File 2127, which would regulate payday lending. The ICC supports the bill. It gives payday loan businesses the choice of: a) offering all loans with a 36 percent interest rate cap, or b) offering loans at their current interest rate and fee structure, but limiting the number of loans to about six to a customer in a year (thereby limiting the cycle of debt).
Currently the average number of loans made to an Iowa customer is 12. Following an initial loan of a few hundred dollars, customer can end up with about 300 percent interest, paying back thousands of dollars. We believe this kind of interest rate is unjust.
Most advances are for $100 up to $500 in Iowa. Because many loans are not repaid at the due date, they are renewed by paying the lender’s fee again. A borrower who is unable to repay their loan within four months will often pay more in fees than the original amount.
We believe this bill would still allow loans to be made to the occasional users the industry says the loans are designed for.
Iowa Opportunities Workforce Act
Good news. House File 2071, the “Iowa Opportunities Workforce Act,” has advanced out of subcommittee and is eligible for consideration by the full House Education Committee. This bill would allow Iowa high school graduates who have been residents of Iowa for five years to be eligible for in-state tuition rates at community colleges and state universities. This policy would include immigrant students without legal status.
Technology for nonpublic school students
We are hopeful that Senate File 2058, a bill to enable state textbook funds to purchase computers for the use of nonpublic school students, will advance. This bill would provide additional flexibility in nonpublic schools and would not require additional state money.
Senate File 2124 would provide for a substantial tax credit for all parents of nonpublic school children.
Legislative leadership has vowed not to move the marriage amendment to Iowa’s constitution. The amendment would define marriage as a union of a man and a woman. Attempts to bring the bill to the floor will be made soon. I appreciate the many contacts you have made to legislators. It has been the most-frequently used action alert on our Web site.
We are also anticipating that a bill will be introduced to provide for religious conscience protection regarding same-sex marriage. We’ll keep you posted.
Health care reform — care available to all
Senate File 2092 would expand the current IowaCare program into “IowaCare Plus.” We will be evaluating the bill as it relates to the U.S. bishops’ principles for health care reform.
IowaCare is the state’s health insurance program of last resort. Services are available only at Broadlawns Medical Center in Des Moines, and the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Many members of both political parties support making services available in additional parts of the state. IowaCare Plus would expand the program to a regional provider network. People who do not have access to “affordable” health care coverage and a family income between 200 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level would be eligible. There would be cost sharing requirements.
SF 2092 would also establish an information-only “health care exchange,” which would be an information clearinghouse for Iowans to obtain comparison information about health care coverage.
Senate File 2126 would prohibit the use of any federal health care reform funds to pay for abortions in Iowa or for health insurance plans which include abortion. We support the bill.
Family planning waiver
The ICC opposes House Study Bill 611, which is an extension and expansion of the state’s current Medicaid family planning waiver. The bill would increase the age of eligibility for these benefits from 44 to 55 (minors are already eligible), include men in the program, and expand the eligibility for recipients making up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level. Generally speaking, we object to government-funded contraception programs. The Catholic Church does not consider those programs to be “health care.”
In addition, we object to minors being able to receive contraceptives without the knowledge of their parents, as this undercuts the parent-child relationship.
Iowa restricts Medicaid abortion funding to pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, fetal deformity, or a pregnancy that threatens the life of the mother.
To see a list of all of the bills we are following, visit our Web site at: www.iowacatholicconference.org and click on “Action Center,” “Bills,” and “Current Legislation.” You can also visit the General Assembly Web site at www.legis.state.ia.us for detailed information on the legislative process.
You can use our Action Center at any time to contact your legislators on any issue. You can also contact your legislator by calling the Iowa House switchboard, (515) 281-3221, or the Iowa Senate, (515) 281-3371.
(Chapman is executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.)