By Tom Chapman
For The Catholic Messenger
DES MOINES — A bill to restrict abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization, Senate File 471, has passed the Senate by a vote of 32-17. The vote was mainly along party lines with two Democrats and an Independent joining the Republicans in supporting the bill. The bill now goes to the House for possible consideration.
Senate File 471 has an exception to allow the abortions of babies who are very sick and will most likely die soon after birth. The Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) disagrees with that exception. While those situations are agonizing for families who will suffer the loss of a child, a very sick child is still a human being and their life should not be taken early. Perinatal hospice programs are available in several parts of the state to help families in these difficult situations.
• The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the omnibus gun bill by a vote of 10-2. House File 517 has already passed the House. We have objected to a provision in HF 517 that changes Iowa law to take away any “duty to retreat,” even while only protecting property. The church recognizes a right to self-defense but also recognizes a duty to not use deadly force unless necessary to protect life.
Please contact your senator before the vote on the floor.
• Senate File 240 passed the House Education Committee by a vote of 21-1. The bill has already passed the Senate and would give accredited nonpublic schools more flexibility in the tools used to assess students’ achievement.
• The Senate is now considering House File 295 which would “pre-empt” cities and counties from raising the minimum wage on their own. Four counties — Linn, Wapello, Polk and Johnson — have already passed an increase in the minimum wage and the bill would take away that increase as well. The ICC supports an increase in the state’s minimum wage. If you haven’t had a chance to send a message to your legislator in support of an increase, please do!
• So far the “enforcement-only” immigration bills have not reached the floor of either chamber for debate. Thanks to those of you who sent in messages in opposition to the bills. On these and other issues, you can send a message to your legislator by visiting our Action Center at www.votervoice.net/icc/home.
State finances and tax credits
The Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) has announced a projected shortfall in the state’s revenue of $131 million for the current fiscal year. It looks like the governor and the legislature have agreed to make up that shortfall from the state’s savings account, since there are only about three months left in the fiscal year. The REC also revised its estimate for the next fiscal year downward by $192 million. This has put a dent in efforts to start a new Education Savings Account program.
In a related move, the Iowa House is considering a bill, House Study Bill 187, to reduce and cap tax credit programs in the state. A tax credit means the state decides to give up tax revenue in exchange for another purpose. The state offered about $427 million in tax credits last year, which means the state is collecting $427 million less in taxes.
The Iowa Catholic Conference has supported several state tax credits in the past, including the Adoption Tax Credit, the Tuition and Textbook Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the School Tuition Organization (STO) Tax Credit.
The STO tax credit, capped by the state at $12 million, helps raise private money for scholarships for lower-income students to attend an accredited nonpublic school. Donors to the scholarship fund get a 65 percent state tax credit. For example, a donation of $1,000 takes $650 off of your Iowa taxes.
The family income of a scholarship recipient must be three times the federal poverty level or less.
The STO tax credit, according to a recent study, has saved the state at least $280 million over the 10 years of its existence. That’s because the scholarships go to lower-income students who may have otherwise gone to the public school.
The Adoption tax credit provides a $2,500 tax credit for expenses related to the adoption of a child. It is estimated that less than a million dollars will be claimed in FY 2018.
The Tuition and Textbook Tax Credit (TTC) is a nonrefundable credit equal to 25 percent of the first $1,000 of eligible K-12 education expenses. It is estimated that a little more than $15 million will be claimed in FY 2018. The majority of claims come from public school parents for fees, books and materials for extracurricular activities. However, it’s also a great program for private school parents, since they are able to take the full $250 state tax credit due to tuition costs.
The state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) supports lower-income people who are working, especially those with children. The fiscal 2018 estimate is that about $72 million will be claimed. The amount can be refunded to taxpayers in excess of their tax liability.
We’ll keep you posted on the progress of HSB 187.
• The Iowa Senate passed Senate Joint Resolution 9 by a vote of 38-9 last week. It is a proposed constitutional amendment to limit spending by the state legislature. If SJR 9 passes both chambers in two different sessions, such as this year and in 2019, Iowans will get to vote whether SJR 9 will go into the constitution or not. The original version of SJR 9 was very similar to a current Iowa law that limits state spending to 99 percent of the revenue estimate for the next fiscal year.
Our main concern is that putting this provision in the state constitution, rather than keeping it in statute, might prevent an appropriate government response to the needs of the poor and vulnerable in a time of crisis. In our view it would be better to have legislators decide what is necessary rather than a formula locked into the constitution.
The Senate improved the bill during floor debate by making it possible for the legislature to overcome the constitutional spending limitation by a two-thirds vote of both chambers.
(Tom Chapman is executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.)