By Tom Chapman
For The Catholic Messenger
The Iowa Legislature is heading into its last month or so for the 2017 session and a sure sign of that development is the introduction of appropriations bills for state departments. Plenty of issues remain on the table that are of interest to the Iowa Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of Iowa’s bishops. Here’s a look:
• A bill outlawing trafficking in fetal body parts, Senate File 359, passed the Iowa Senate last week by a vote of 43-6. The bill moved to the House for possible consideration. This bill would allow the use of tissue procured from morally-licit sources.
• Senate File 471, a bill to restrict abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization, also has passed a House subcommittee. Unborn children at 20 weeks post-fertilization, once considered too young to survive, now do so at an increasing rate. The bill currently allows the abortion of children with an “anomaly” where a child is born alive but will die soon. Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) staff testified that even though these infants are very sick, disabled or dying, we do not support taking their lives. A procedure to deliver an unborn child that dies of natural causes in the uterus is not and should not be considered an abortion.
Both of these bills have a deadline to pass the House Human Resources Committee by this Friday because of the second legislative “funnel” date. There is a possibility that these bills will not advance because of a small group of legislators who are holding out for more extensive restrictions on abortion. Please take the time to contact your legislator on the issue.
• ICC staff spoke at a Senate subcommittee hearing in support of an increase in the state’s minimum wage, currently set at $7.25 per hour. House File 295, now in the Senate, would forbid local governments from raising the minimum wage on their own. Many Iowans would directly or indirectly benefit from higher wages. The minimum wage is certainly not a “just” wage in the sense that it could support an individual, much less several family members, but a better wage would be a step in that direction.
HF 295 passed out of subcommittee and the full State Government Committee.
Bills eligible for debate in the Senate regarding the enforcement of immigration law and the use of deadly force have not been voted on yet. There’s still time to contact your legislators. For explanations of our positions on these and other bills and sample messages, go to our Action Center at www.votervoice.net/icc/home.
In our newsletter last week, we told you about House Study Bill 187, a bill to limit state tax credits. The bill has not advanced out of an Appropriations subcommittee but legislators may keep working on it. The bill caps and, over time, reduces the total amount of tax credits in the state from $427 to $370 million. It also makes the credits available on a first come, first serve basis. We are monitoring the bill particularly for any impact on tax credits related to adoption, scholarships for nonpublic school children, assistance for parents of students in K-12 education (public and private) and the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Health care initiatives
One of our legislative concerns over the years has been to support initiatives that would make health care, including mental health care, more readily available and affordable to Iowans.
As Pope Francis has said, “Health, indeed, is not a consumer good, but a universal right which means that access to healthcare services cannot be a privilege.”
One of the ways the issue of healthcare is showing up in the Iowa Legislature this year is through a discussion about government-funded mental health services.
In 1996, as part of an effort to shift mental health funding from counties to the state budget, legislation imposed a cap on the total dollar amount in property taxes counties could levy for mental health services.
In 2013, Iowa established mental health regions comprised of one or more counties. The current property tax cap means these regions cannot address inequities in service needed by growing urban counties and rural counties with declining populations.
The ICC does not typically take a position on specific tax rates; however, we have opposed budget caps that get in the way of an appropriate government response to the needs of the poor and vulnerable.
For more information, check out a recent blog post on our website www.iowacatholic
Statement in solidarity with migrants and refugees
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Administrative Committee has issued a pastoral reflection in solidarity with those who have been forced to flee their homes due to violence, conflict or fear in their native lands. In the statement, the bishops encourage each of us to do what we can to accompany migrants and refugees who seek a better life in the United States.
Today (March 30), the Coalition of Pro-Life Leaders is sponsoring a pro-life rally at the State Capitol. The event will take place from 10 a.m. to noon. Those who attend are invited to bring a pair of baby shoes to represent a lost life.
On April 6 the “Education Celebration” to promote parental choice in education is scheduled. The rally begins at noon in the first floor rotunda of the State Capitol. Opportunities are available to discuss nonpublic education options and school choice issues directly with policymakers.
On April 13 the Iowa Religious Freedom Day celebration will be held in the first floor rotunda at noon. Tim Knepper of the Drake University Comparison Project is the keynote speaker and will describe the Spectrum of Faith project. Des Moines Bishop Richard Pates, board chair of the Iowa Catholic Conference, will lead off the event with a few remarks.
(Tom Chapman is executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.)