By Tom Chapman
An increase in the state earned income tax credit (EITC) from seven to 10 percent is one of the issues of contention between the Iowa House and Senate.
The EITC is a tax break for working families who earn less than $45,000 a year. The Iowa Catholic Conference supports the increase. The Democratic Senate would like to include the EITC increase, while the Republican House would prefer to provide tax relief by cutting income tax rates by 20 percent. Because they can’t agree to the same version of the bill, SF 209 has been sent to a conference committee, which will work to agree on a final bill and send it back to the chambers for consideration.
Payday loan regulation
Senate File 113, which had passed the Senate Human Resources Committee, was transferred to the Commerce Committee last week. The bill provides for a 36 percent rate cap on payday loans. In practice, current interest rates of 300 to 400 percent end up trapping families in a cycle of debt. The most recent survey compiled by the Iowa Division of Banking shows that the average loans per customer per year is slightly over 12 with an average APR of 301.1 percent.
House File 5, a ban on late-term abortions, has been reassigned to a new subcommittee. The bill contains exceptions to save the life of the mother and for medical emergencies. The ICC believes the bill is important to make sure that some providers of late-term abortions, such as Dr. LeRoy Carhart, do not relocate to Iowa. The ICC also supports House File 576, a bill to keep insurance plans covering abortion out of a state health exchange. Other bills of note are House File 87, which would cut back on state funding for providers of abortion, and House File 439, which would require reporting of the number of waivers granted from abortion notification requirements for pregnant minors.
The Iowa House has passed House File 535, the governor’s preschool bill which reduces funding for preschool by about $30 million. The bill would provide preschool scholarships based on family income that parents could use at any provider. Republicans are concerned that the current program is too costly when the state does not fully fund K-12 education. Rep. Jeremy Taylor, R-Sioux City, amended the bill to make it clear that providers could provide religious instruction during preschool hours. Senate Democrats said they will not take up the bill, thereby keeping the current preschool program, where no parents pay tuition. The main argument then will be how much money to spend on the program, which is estimated to cost about $70 million next year.
Either way, the ICC is working to tweak the current program so individual school districts cannot withhold an extraordinary amount of funds for “administrative services” from private school partners.
The Iowa House has passed House File 525, a bill that would eliminate some collective bargaining rights of public employee union members. Among other items, HF 525 would give public employees the right to declare themselves a free agent. Health insurance would no longer be a topic for bargaining and public employees would be required to pay at least $100 a month for health insurance. Unions would no longer be able to negotiate over layoffs. The bill would also require arbitrators to consider wage and benefit comparisons with non-union workers and the private sector, and also whether taxes would be increased. Republican leadership said the bill did not eliminate Iowa’s collective bargaining law, but addresses two things: the scope of negotiations between management and labor, along with arbitration procedures. Democrats contended the law essentially eliminated collective bargaining for state employees. The ICC’s statement on the bill is in the news section of its website at www.iowacatholicconference.org. Catholic social teaching supports the rights of workers to organize while recognizing that we all have responsibilities beyond our own self-interest towards the common good.
The ICC opposes Senate File 458, which, among other provisions, would legalize Internet poker in Iowa. Iowa would be the first state in the nation to take this step. The bill has been referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
House File 607 eliminates a life sentence without parole for juveniles who committed a crime other than first-degree murder. The ICC opposes the bill as it requires judges to impose a minimum term of confinement between 30 and 45 years, which is arguably contrary to a “meaningful opportunity for release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation” as required in these cases by a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Both chambers in Iowa are advancing bills to create “state health insurance exchanges” which will be key parts of the federal Affordable Care Act (health care reform). The state is asking for money to implement these exchanges; the purpose is to help people purchase affordable insurance. There is disagreement about what form these exchanges would take. Senate File 391 and House File 559 would require those in the exchanges to purchase health insurance through a broker and guarantee the broker a 5 percent commission from insurance companies. In addition, the “navigators” envisioned by the Affordable Care Act to assist consumers would be brokers or have to work with brokers.
Senate File 348 would attempt to facilitate the availability of affordable insurance without containing the above provisions. The Child and Family Policy Center reports that Senate is working on an exchange bill that will combine the two versions they currently have in front of them. The nation’s Catholic bishops have advocated for quality, accessible and affordable health care for all for decades.