By Tom Chapman
Little debate took place on the floor of the legislature last week as behind the scenes negotiations continued on the budget and property tax issues. There was some good news as Gov. Terry Branstad said he would sign an increase in the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) as a part of a bigger deal to cut commercial property taxes. The EITC is a tax break for low-income workers. Democratic leadership had said it would not agree to cut property taxes without an EITC increase. No such tax deal is in place yet, but hopefully the parties can figure that out soon.
In other news:
The Senate passed Senate File 2284, its version of the education reform bill that includes several positive elements. Among them: a section offering flexibility for schools in offering competency-based education, the inclusion of nonpublic schools in a new online learning initiative, and increasing efforts to support early childhood literacy. Unfortunately an amendment to provide for an alternative pathway into teaching failed.
Another last-minute amendment, which would have provided about $1,400 per child for private school tuition, failed to pass. This amendment would have given parents true freedom of choice in the selection of schools for their children and would have saved the state money. It also would have provided additional per-pupil dollars to public schools. Besides that, initiatives such as these have been proven to raise educational achievement in nearby public schools.
The House has not yet taken action on HF 2435, the health and human services appropriations bill. The Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) supports restoring some funding to the Department of Human Services for the hawk-i health insurance program for children as well as for staff to assist low-income families.
The ICC also supports a proposal to prioritize government family planning dollars to reimburse health centers that provide more comprehensive health services, and not send money to abortion providers. It does not serve the common good to send taxpayer money to organizations that assist in the taking of human life.
• SF 2325 and HF 2463 would reinstate the “child abuse check-off” on Iowa tax forms. The check-off raised $61,175 for the Iowa Child Abuse Prevention Program last year. This program helps families and children in 90 Iowa counties, offering parent education and support, respite child care, and child sexual abuse prevention services. The ICC supports the bills.
• HF 2462 would require a public school start date of no earlier than the fourth Monday of August. Although the bill only mentions public schools, it would also affect Catholic schools because many follow the local district’s calendar. Tourism interests, the Farm Bureau and the Iowa State Fair are supporting the bill. The ICC opposes it because the decision is best left to the local community, which is more accountable to parents and the needs of children. In addition, Catholic school administrators are concerned the bill would eliminate the ability to end semesters before the end of the calendar year.
Faithful Citizenship resources
Many new resources have been added to the U.S. bishops’ website for “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” at www.faithfulcitizenship.
org. Many of these have been translated into Spanish as well.
One such resource addresses the role of conscience and how one might form his or her conscience. As we enter the campaign season, the bishops have a lot to offer in their perspectives on important issues in society and how we can apply our consciences to political activity.
Here are some tips from the bishops’ conference:
1. When examining any issue or situation, begin by being open to the truth and what is right.
2. Study sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church.
3. Examine the facts and background information about various choices.
4. Prayerfully reflect to discern the will of God (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, no. 18).
The U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults adds:
5. The prudent advice and good example of others support and enlighten our conscience.
6. The authoritative teaching of the Church is an essential element.
7. The gifts of the Holy Spirit help us develop our conscience.
8. Regular examination of conscience is important as well (p. 314).
It would be great to see Catholics study and engage the entirety of Catholic social teaching, starting with the life and dignity of the human person, and reflect on why the bishops may hold the political positions they do. For more information on these resources, don’t hesitate to contact the ICC.
Listen to KWKY
This week, much of the early morning programming on 1150 KWKY Catholic Radio (www.kwky.com) will be focused on the work of the Iowa Catholic Conference. The signal covers much of Iowa and is streamed on the web. ICC segments will be broadcast all week during the 7-8 a.m. morning program and a half-hour block beginning at 9 a.m. Guests will include ICC board members and staff, legislators, and representatives of other groups that work alongside the conference on various issues.
(Tom Chapman is executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference).