By Tom Chapman
For The Catholic Messenger
With the first legislative deadline behind us, the Iowa House and Senate spent most of last week in floor debate and sending bills over to the other chamber. One such bill, Senate File 2113, would require teachers to obtain one hour of suicide prevention training before license renewal. The Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) supports the bill. The Senate passed the bill unanimously 48-0.
Senate Republican leaders have introduced Senate File 2383, which proposes a set of wide-ranging and complex changes to Iowa’s tax code. The bill, introduced Feb. 21, passed out of the Senate Ways and Means Committee along party lines Feb. 22. A fiscal note by the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency on the bill’s impact has not yet been issued.
The ICC offered some comments to the committee regarding basic principles of taxation and a few specific policies found in the bill. Proponents say taxes in Iowa would be lowered by more than $1 billion. Will this allow adequate revenues for public education, Medicaid, public safety, a strong safety net and other acts of government essential to the common good?
SF 2383 increases tax rates for persons with the lowest incomes while decreasing rates for those with higher incomes. The ICC appreciates that the bill leaves the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income working Iowans untouched. Combined with the effect of the new federal standard deduction, which protects additional income from taxes, we are asking if this bill will result in the lowest-income Iowans paying more taxes. No tax reform proposal would be acceptable that increases taxes for families struggling to meet their daily needs in order to finance cuts for higher-income people.
The bill provides for a $1 million increase in the amount of tax credits for School Tuition Organizations (STOs) to help raise money for scholarships for lower-income children to attend a nonpublic school. It also increases the number of families who are eligible for scholarships by increasing the limit on family income from 300 percent of the federal poverty level to 400 percent.
To read the bishops’ basic principles on taxation and to contact your senator, go to www.votervoice.net/ICC/
The ICC opposes state Constitutional amendments that would make the regulation of guns more difficult. Senate Joint Resolution 2009 and House Joint Resolution 2009 are proposed state Constitutional amendments that would subject any restrictions of the right of the people to keep and bear arms to “strict scrutiny.” The ICC recommends opposition because it would have the effect of making any regulation of firearms difficult and may put current state law regarding background checks and permitting at risk. These amendments would have to pass both chambers this year, and then again next year, before going to a vote of Iowans in 2020.
The Catholic bishops of the United States have been a consistent advocate of reasonable regulation of firearms for many years. The church recognizes that recourse to self-defense is legitimate but also that guns are simply too easily accessible. Please send a message to your Senator and Representative in opposition to SJR 2009 and HJR 2009 at www.votervoice.net/ICC/campaigns/57269/respond.
We also have information on our website regarding Senate File 2311, which makes many changes in the regulation of utilities. So far, the bill has passed the Senate Commerce Committee and is eligible for consideration on the Senate floor. Our interest in the bill is related to the church’s teaching on the protection and care of our common home, as found in Pope Francis’ encyclical letter “Laudato Si.” Energy efficiency is a relatively inexpensive way to help us address our energy needs while lessening our reliance on fossil fuels.
Utility customers are charged a fee for energy efficiency programs. SF 2311 would make participation in energy efficiency programs optional, which would likely reduce participation, and therefore reduce the level of investment utilities are required to make in energy efficiency programs. Is this the time to pull back on commitments that have been made to lessen our reliance on fossil fuels?
The changes would also reduce financial support for the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). WAP reduces the heating and cooling costs for low-income persons, particularly the elderly, disabled and children, by improving the energy efficiency of their homes, thereby reducing the households’ energy bills. Go to www.votervoice.net/ICC/campaigns/ 57267/respond for more information on this issue.
House File 2405 — forbids parents from bringing lawsuits against physicians claiming a child should have been aborted because of a disability (ICC supports).
House File 2448 — legalization of sports betting (ICC opposes).
Senate File 2338 — Religious Freedom Restoration Act (ICC supports).
Senate File 2344 — free speech on campus (ICC supports provision allowing campus religious groups to choose their own leadership).