By Tom Chapman
For The Catholic Messenger
The Iowa Senate passed its version of House File 2460, the human services budget bill. The bill appropriates nearly $2 billion for important human services programs. Among the subjects of interest to the Catholic Conference:
The Senate version includes $300,000 of the requested $350,000 for the RefugeeRise program. This has been a priority item for the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) throughout the session.
The Senate’s version of the human services budget bill keeps the status quo of government family planning funds being made available to abortion providers. The ICC supported a last-minute amendment to “defund” the abortion industry that failed on a tie vote, 25-25.
The Senate bill would send $2.5 million to Polk County and $250,000 each to the Eastern Iowa and East Central Iowa mental health regions. Legislators have been considering a proposal to remove a cap on the current mental health property tax levy. The bill also includes more robust Medicaid oversight language.
The version of the human services budget bill passed earlier last week by the Iowa House set up a $3 million state-funded program for family planning for the purpose of stopping any government funds from going to abortion providers. It also included a new oversight regime for the Medicaid program with a focus on “patient health outcomes, contract management, and financial sustainability.” The House bill also contained $3 million in grants for two areas to help shore up their mental health funding — Polk County and the Eastern Iowa mental health region.
The ICC anticipates that the human services bill will end up in a conference committee where members from both parties and both chambers will try to come to an agreement.
Disaster case management bill still moving
Senate File 492 passed unanimously out of the House Appropriations Committee. It would set up state-based case management services in the event of a disaster. This service would be available following disasters that may not be widespread enough to be declared as a federal disaster. Catholic Charities is one of the faith-based providers that are part of the statewide recovery network that serves in the event of emergency. Now that it’s out of the Appropriations Committee, it’s time to send another email message and encourage your legislator to support the bill. The updated message for your legislator is at https://www.votervoice.net/ ICC/campaigns/45350/respond. When/if the bill passes the House it needs to go back to the Senate.
Funding increase rejected for nonpublic school students
The ICC is disappointed that Gov. Terry Branstad’s recommended increase for textbooks/technology for nonpublic schools students was cut by the legislature in the education appropriations bill, SF 2323. The hard cap of $20 per nonpublic school student was set in 1990. Two generations of K-12 students have come and gone in that time. In the ICC’s opinion it’s way past time for legislators to assist these students with an increase in funding. Click on votervoice.net/ICC/Campaigns/46011/Respond for an alert.
The “standings” bill, HF 2459, relates to appropriations that are mandated by Iowa law. Since it is typically one of the last bills of the session, it tends to attract amendments containing bills that didn’t pass previously. One such amendment in the Senate version is a $250,000 appropriation for emergency food purchase programs. The ICC supports this provision.
Both House and Senate versions of the bill fail to fix an appropriations level set in last year’s standings bill ($8.6 million) for the transportation of nonpublic school students. The funding level is only about 80 percent of what is needed.
The Senate standings bill also adds a “sunset” provision for Iowa’s public online schools. The sunset provision would remove their right to operate in a few years. The ICC supports public schools, including online schools, as a positive choice for some parents and students. The online schools are apparently working well — why create this uncertainty?
Funding of drug courts pops up again
The issue of funding drug courts has popped up again. A last-minute amendment to HF 2468, the justice appropriations bill, added language requiring several of the corrections districts to retain their drug courts. This has become an annual discussion in the legislature because some of the districts would prefer to spend their money on other items.
The goal of a drug court is to offer nonviolent offenders with addictions an opportunity to change their lives with the help of an intensive treatment and rehabilitation program. The offender can avoid prison time if successful in completing the program. Catholic Charities assists with these programs in some parts of the state.
Ideally the justice system would get a budget that would allow them to more easily operate the drug courts so the additional language requiring the courts would not be necessary. Specialty courts cost more up front but the fiscal studies are clear they are saving the state money.
HF 2468 has been sent back to the House. If you’re interested, the best thing to do right now is send a message to your House member on the issue. The message would be “Please keep the language requiring drug courts in HF 2468.” The ICC anticipates that the House will either accept or reject the changes this week.
For action alerts on several of these issues, go to: www.votervoice.net/icc/home. You can also use the ICC website to send a message to your legislator on any issue. The VoterVoice app on your phone is pretty convenient too.
(Tom Chapman is executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.)