By Tom Chapman
For The Catholic Messenger
It was a fairly short but busy week at the capitol as work continued on the state budget along with a few policy items. There are multiple reports that Democratic and Republican leaders have agreed on the level of increased funding for public schools, called “supplemental state aid.” With this agreement, public schools would receive a 1.25 percent increase as the House suggested and also receive a one-time payment of $55 million. The one-time payment would not be added to the base amount in the future. If these reports of an agreement are accurate, work on other budgets will go on a faster pace.
In other news, the House Appropriations Committee passed SF 492. The bill would create a system for case management services in the event of a disaster. Case managers work one-on-one to help people develop a plan to address their needs and connect with resources. This is a longer-term response than distributing individual cash assistance. Catholic Charities is an integral responder to many disasters.
SF 497, the justice systems budget, is in a conference committee because the Senate and House have not agreed on a final version. Conference committees hammer out a final version of a bill that, generally speaking, cannot be amended; it can only be voted on.
The House removed specific funding and more extensive language on the human trafficking issue from the Senate version of SF 497. The Senate would have required the Attorney General’s office to conduct outreach and training programs and the state to hire a person specifically for human trafficking enforcement. Instead, the House added the phrase “human trafficking training” to the list of duties of the Attorney General’s office. The Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) encourages the legislature to consider additional efforts. The House also voted to cut $1 million from the victim assistance budget. Among the many programs that might be affected is Catholic Charities’ domestic violence program out of Council Bluffs. The floor manager for the bill said it was a higher priority for the House to fund positions for first responders (such as the State Patrol). The victim assistance grants had been increased by $4 million a couple of years ago.
The House approved an amendment to SF 336 that increased the penalty for human trafficking in the Iowa Code, making it a forcible felony. The amendment also adds all school employees and many volunteers, rather than only licensed employees such as teachers, to the school sexual exploitation statute. SF 336 returns to the Senate for consideration.
The state Department of Education budget, HF 658, might be headed to a conference committee. There are disagreements around many items including support of the state universities. Both versions contain the same amount of funding for textbooks and technology for nonpublic schools — $650,000 — and good provisions for flexibility in spending of state preschool funds by public and nonpublic schools.
The Senate has passed the human services appropriations bill, SF 505. It budgets about $1.9 billion from the state’s general fund for the Departments of Aging, Public Health, Human Services, Veterans Affairs and the Iowa Veterans Home. One item of interest is that the bill increases the eligibility level for child care assistance up to 160 percent (from 145 percent) of the federal poverty level. The House is set to bring its version of the bill out of committee early next week. The ICC has been working to have the refugee support pilot program funded here but have not been successful so far.
And finally, the Circle of Protection group is asking presidential candidates to record a video telling Americans what he or she would do to help hungry and poor people if elected. The group will publicize the presidential candidate’s video among churches and the public. The Circle of Protection will not evaluate the presidential candidates’ policy positions or endorse any candidate. Its website is www.circleofprotection.us.
The Circle of Protection is composed of Christian leaders who are heads of denominations, agencies and organizations. The U.S. Catholic bishops conference is a founding member.
(Tom Chapman is executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.)