By Tom Chapman
The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (S. 1467) this week in the form of an amendment to Transportation Authorization Bill (S. 1813). For this purpose, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the primary sponsor of S. 1467, has introduced Senate Amendment 1520. A suggested e-mail message to the Senate specifically urges Senators to vote for Senate Amendment 1520.
Contact your member of Congress by e-mail or phone:
U.S. Capitol switchboard: (202) 224-3121, or call your members’ local offices.
Email: www.usccb.org/conscience, click on NCHLA’s Grassroots Action Center.
Additional email contact information: www.house.gov and www.senate.gov.
The suggested message is: “Please co-sponsor and support the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. The Obama administration’s decision to mandate coverage of sterilization and contraceptives, including drugs that can cause an abortion, makes passage of this measure especially urgent. Please ensure that the religious liberty and conscience rights of all participants in our nation’s health care system are respected.”
Last week’s Iowa Legislative Action
The first “funnel” date has come and gone. Any bill that was not reported out of a committee by last Friday is no longer eligible for consideration (with a few exceptions). Sometimes bills that die now come back to life as amendments to other bills.
The Iowa Catholic Conference’s Action Center (visit www.iowacatholicconference.
org) has been updated with alerts for bills that are still active. In particular, the ICC encourages people to contact their House member on Senate File 2161, an increase in the state Earned Income Tax Credit. It is in danger of getting held up by other tax issues.
Also visit www.facebook. com/iowacatholicconference for alerts and updates, and the front page of the ICC website has its latest tweets from @iacatholic
• House Study Bill 517, the governor’s education reform bill, was reported out of the House Education Committee by a 12-11 vote. Two Republicans joined the Democrats in voting no. Many of the amendments to the bill were not publicly available during the committee meeting, and at press time, the complete bill as amended was not available either.
The Catholic schools’ biggest problem with the bill — mandatory use of a state hiring pool for teachers — was fixed. Unfortunately, sections the ICC supported regarding increased opportunities for online learning and competency-based instruction were watered down.
The majority Senate Democrats passed their own reform bill out of the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. Senate Study Bill 3171 is much shorter than the House reform bill. The ICC believes the Senate’s provisions for online learning and competency-based instruction are more helpful than the House version.
Three bills which would implement Education Savings Grants did not advance.
In one way or another, these bills provided that the state would deposit money into an account that many parents could use to send their children to the nonpublic/Catholic school of their choice. The ICC will continue to work on similar bills in future years.
• Neither one of the abortion-related bills, House File 2033 or House File 2239, made it out of the House Human Resources Committee.
HF 2033 would have required an ultrasound before an abortion. HF 2239 provided for an informed consent process before an abortion — not currently required by law — and would outlaw “telemed” abortions.
• Senate File 2229 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. It extends the deadline for lawsuits related to sexual abuse of a minor to 10 years after the age of majority, or 10 years from the discovery that an injury is related to abuse. It also extends the statute of limitations for bringing a criminal action to 20 years after the age of majority of the victim. The ICC supports the bill as it seems to be a reasonable accommodation of everyone’s interest in justice.
“Along with the other Iowa bishops I certainly support this bill,” Bishop Martin Amos said.
• Two bills the ICC does not support were reported out of the House Judiciary Committee last week. The ICC believes both are intended to target people who are illegally present in Iowa. House File 2156 requires Iowa businesses to use the federal E-verify system for all hiring, and requires law enforcement to investigate all complaints about the hiring of unauthorized aliens. This poses numerous practical problems for businesses and people looking for a new job. House Study Bill 638 creates new crimes and penalties for identity theft, including stealing the identity of a fictitious person. Federal law may “preempt” the civil and criminal penalties provisions of HSB 638.
• The Senate State Government Committee passed SSB 3164 last week. The ICC opposes this bill, which legalizes online poker sponsored by casinos in Iowa, as an unwarranted expansion of gambling in the state that will result in more problem gamblers and therefore more problems for families.
• Other bills that did not advance: SF 2095, reinstatement of the death penalty, and HF 2046, HF 2045, HF 2038 and HF 2036, which required drug testing of some welfare and unemployment insurance recipients. The ICC opposed each of these bills. Another bill that didn’t advance — HF 2192 – would grant resident status for some students who attended Iowa schools, including undocumented students, and would allow for in-state tuition rates at Iowa’s public universities. The ICC supported this bill.
(Chapman is executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.)