By Tom Chapman
For The Catholic Messenger
Keeping an eye on the state budget
It looks like the Democrats, who hold the majority in the Iowa Senate, began work this week on budget bills. Their proposal would allow for spending from the state’s general fund of about $7.3 billion, the same number as the governor’s budget. The Republican leaders in the House want the state budget to spend no more than about $7.2 billion.
Among the items the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) is monitoring in the state budget are programs that affect people with low incomes and other vulnerable groups, such as the unborn, people who are trafficked, immigrants and refugees. The ICC also advocates for support of nonpublic school students. Pay attention to the ICC’s Twitter feed, Facebook page and website (www.iowacatholiconference.org) for information during the coming weeks. The website has some new updates coming online, including questions and answers on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Take action now to support religious liberty
The ICC asks for your help in stopping two pieces of legislation recently passed by the Council of the District of Columbia and signed by the mayor. Because of D.C.’s unique character as a federal district rather than a city or a state, the Constitution grants Congress the authority to legislate in D.C. So, even though a law may only affect the District of Columbia, it is a matter of oversight for Congress.
These acts, the “Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act” (RHNDA) and the “Human Rights Amendment Act” (HRAA) are threats to everyone’s religious liberty. Congress should be urged to rescind these laws.
Catholic leaders express support for sentencing legislation
Two pieces of legislation amount to a step in the right direction toward meaningful criminal justice reform. That’s the option of the bishop who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Domestic Justice and Human Development Committee and the president-elect of Catholic Charities USA in two letters to leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee April 14.
“Rigid sentencing policies for non-violent offenses are costly, ineffective and can be detrimental to the good of persons, families and communities. Prolonged incarceration contributes to family instability and poverty,” wrote Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami and Dominican Sister Donna Markham in their letter to Senators Charles Grassley and Patrick Leahy, supporting the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2015 (S. 502/H.R. 920). The bill would expand judicial sentencing options for non-violent drug offenses, permit certain drug offenders to seek sentence reductions, and promote programs to reduce re-offending.
Archbishop Wenski and Sr. Markham also voiced support for the Corrections Oversight, Recidivism Reduction, and Eliminating Costs for Tax-payers in Our National System Act of 2015 (CORRECTIONS Act, S.467), which promotes recidivism (re-offending) reduction by requiring lower-risk prisoners to participate in re-entry training programs with faith-based, community and nonprofit organizations in order to earn up to 25 percent off their sentences.
(Tom Chapman is executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.)