By Tom Chapman
DES MOINES — Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad presented his Condition of the State address Jan. 14, the day after the second session of the 85th General Assembly began.
The governor asked for passage of anti-bullying legislation, initiatives to increase access to broadband Internet, and the creation of a “Home Base” partnership to encourage veterans to move to Iowa.
The governor also released his proposed fiscal year 2015 budget. It recommends General Fund appropriations of about $7 billion, leaving an estimated $723 million surplus. Most of the state departments were recommended to have a status quo budget. One notable exception was the state universities. The governor is recommending an additional $19 million so they can freeze tuition.
Among some items of particular interest to the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC), the governor recommended a status quo budget for textbook and transportation funds for nonpublic school students, as well as tax credits for school tuition organizations. The ICC is pleased the governor recommended specific line-item funding for “drug courts.” In addition, the governor added about $30 million in funding for transition from county-based to regional mental health services.
Fewer bills than normal were filed during the first week. Two bills that align with ICC priorities are Senate File 2019, which would restrict the shackling of pregnant inmates, and House File 2011, which would increase the state minimum wage.
There’s been some discussion about a new bill to restrict webcam abortions. The ICC supports this idea. An Iowa Board of Medicine rule to restrict these abortions is tied up in court.
Roe v. Wade anniversary
Jan. 22 was the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which found a legal right to abortion. Every year the ICC co-sponsors a Rally for Life event, which includes education and opportunities for lobbying. The focus of this year’s event, Feb. 17, is euthanasia/ assisted suicide. For more information, check out the flier on the ICC website (www.iowacatholicconference.org).
On Jan. 15, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee approved the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (H.R. 7), a key step in preparing the bill for a vote on the House floor. The National Committee for a Human Life Amendment (NCHLA) has issued an action alert in which representatives are urged to support this measure. See: www.nchla.org/actiondisplay.asp?ID=310. NCHLA is the Catholic bishops’ grassroots arm for pro-life legislation.
The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, first introduced in 2010, would place in permanent law a consistent policy that the federal government should not use tax dollars to support or promote elective abortion.
Catholic leaders call for decent work and just wages
Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, in a recent letter called on the U.S. Senate to advance policies that promote decent work and just wages.
Noting that the current federal minimum wage fails “to provide sufficient resources for individuals to form and support families,” they conclude that it does not meet the standard for just wages as set out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The letter recalls the sentiments of Pope Francis from last September, saying it is necessary “to remove centrality from the law of profit and gain, and to put the person and the common good back at the center” of economic life.
The letter can be found at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/labor-employment/ upload/joint-minimum-wage-letter-2014-01-08.pdf.
War on Poverty
Last week was the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty declared by President Lyndon Johnson. Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) is partnering with seven nonprofit organizations to address progress made and what’s still needed to build more permanent bridges out of poverty.
Each organization agreed to a set of poverty-reduction strategy principles put forth by CCUSA as they work together in the coming year:
Educate the public about the everyday challenges facing more than 46 million people living in poverty in America today;
Highlight innovative solutions to poverty by connecting local practitioners with national leaders; and
Act to reduce poverty in communities across the country using newfound knowledge and techniques.
There is some good news to report on the budget for international aid. According to Catholics Confront Global Poverty, humanitarian accounts in the just-approved omnibus appropriations bill increased significantly compared to last year. Catholics Confront Global Poverty is an initiative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services.
(Chapman is executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.)