Update on funnel deadline in Iowa Legislature

By Tom Chapman
For The Catholic Messenger

The Iowa Legislature reached its second funnel deadline last week. Bills originating in one chamber needed to pass a committee in the other chamber to stay alive. (The deadline does not apply to budget or tax bills.)

House File (HF) 754 and Senate File (SF) 492 are on the unfinished business calendar. This is a procedural move to keep the bills alive. The Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) opposes the bills, which would cut unemployment insurance benefits for bigger families and put in place a one-week waiting period before they can receive benefits. Visit the ICC website at iowacatholic
conference.org to express opposition to the bill.

A few bills the ICC supports survived the funnel deadline by passing a committee last week:

• HF 302 establishes a graduated eligibility phase-out for state child-care assistance to help prevent a “cliff effect.” This addresses the problem that can result when a person starts making more money and loses all of their government child-care assistance, resulting in a net loss of income.

• HF 819 acknowledges the fundamental rights of parents to make decisions in the care and custody of children. Iowa courts recognize these rights but we don’t want to depend on court rulings.

• HF 318 is a pilot program to provide preschool funding for some “younger” 5-year-olds.

Other bills that the ICC supports remain eligible for consideration. These include:

• HF 847, a bill that increases the “tuition and textbook” tax credit for school parents.

• SJR 2/HJR 5, the Protect Life Amendment to Iowa’s Constitution.

• SSB 1254, tax exemption for purchase of equipment by food banks/pantries.

• SF 295, affordable housing measures.

• HF 369, doubling the tax credit for adoptive parents.

• HF 452 and SF 388 to provide authorities with additional resources to complete investigations of trafficking in humans.

• HF 724 and SF 362 to require employers to treat employees who adopt a child up to the age of 6 in the same manner as those with a biological child.

Bills no longer eligible for consideration:

• HJR 11, a constitutional amendment that allows people coming out of prison to vote.

• HF 678, to decrease the amount of time spent in probation.

• HF 294, which requires insurance companies to pay the same rate for in-person and telehealth mental health services. Catholic Charities’ counseling programs provides telehealth services.

• SF 522, not addressed by the House Judiciary Com­mittee. It would have outlawed elder abuse in the areas of theft, consumer fraud and neglect.

• HF 833, which would offer additional legal protections for mobile home park residents.

The ICC opposed these bills that died in the funnel – thanks to those of you who contacted legislators in opposition:

• SF 339, requiring businesses to use the voluntary federal e-verify system to confirm the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States.

• HF 434, providing a statewide standing order for “over the counter” contraception.

• A proposed amendment to SF 534 to bring back the death penalty.

• SF 389, creating a new asset test for food stamps, which would have made many current recipients ineligible.

You can always contact your legislators by visiting the ICC Action Center (www.votervoice.net/icc/home)

As of press time, Gov. Reynolds has not signed SF 252, a bill to allow landlords to reject renters solely on the basis of their using a federal housing voucher. You can ask her for a veto by visiting https://governor.iowa.gov/contact and clicking on “Register an Opinion.”

Vaccines becoming more available:

During a news conference last week, the governor mentioned her efforts to work with the Catholic dioceses and Catholic Charities to offer vaccination clinics in different parts of the state for underserved groups.

Gov. Reynolds reiterated that all adult Iowans would be eligible for the vaccine beginning April 5. We have found that www.
vaccinefinder.org can be a good resource for scheduling.

People who are over the age of 65 or have other health challenges, and also lack technology or have language barriers, can call 2-1-1 for assistance with scheduling.

(Tom Chapman is executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.)

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Iowa Catholic Conference provides update on state legislation

By Tom Chapman
For The Catholic Messenger

The second legislative funnel deadline is April 2, when a bill needs to have passed one chamber and a committee in the other chamber to remain eligible. This deadline does not apply to tax- or budget-related bills.

Late last week, the Iowa House passed and sent to the Senate several bills supported by the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC), including:

• HF 847 — doubles the tuition and textbook tax credit for nonpublic school parents, increases a tax deduction for teachers, provides additional options for private and public schools to submit innovative education plans and has additional open-enrollment options for public school parents.

• HJR 11 — constitutional amendment that allows people coming out of prison to vote.

• HF 724 — requires employers to treat employees who adopt a child up to the age of 6 in the same manner as those with a biological child.

• HF 819 — acknowledges fundamental rights for parents in the care and custody of children. Presumes a parent to be fit and requires clear and convincing evidence to overcome that.

Due to the funnel deadline, HF 724 and HF 819 would have to clear a Senate committee by next Friday. If nothing else, the bills will be eligible for consideration by the Senate next year.

In other legislative action:

• The Senate passed HF 756, the weapons omnibus bill, last week. It goes to the governor.

• The Senate Ways and Means Committee passed SF 587, which would have the state’s General Fund pay for Iowa’s mental health regions rather than local property taxes. Funds raised through county property taxes are currently just one source of funding for mental health services in Iowa. Other funding of services would continue from commercial health insurance and the federal government.

• SF 587 also stops more than $150 million in “backfill” payments from the state to cities and counties and removes state revenue triggers so income tax reductions can take place sooner.

• HF 678 is on the House debate calendar. The ICC supports the bill, which provides an evidence-based credit system to decrease the amount of time spent on probation and reduce recidivism — in other words, restorative justice.

• A legislator has filed an amendment to the “Back the Blue” bill, SF 534, to bring back the death penalty. SF 534 has been sitting dormant in the House Public Safety Committee and we are monitoring the situation closely.

• The ICC has asked the governor to veto SF 252, which would allow landlords to reject applicants who use federal Housing Choice (formerly Section 8) vouchers. Technically, SF 252 would prevent cities from passing “source of income” ordinances, which prohibit landlords from refusing to rent to applicants who use the federal housing vouchers. Three cities — Marion, Des Moines and Iowa City — currently do so.

From the perspective of Catholic Charities, helping people find affordable housing was a priority before the pandemic. Since then, the need has only increased. At the end of a recent month, Catholic Charities in just one city was helping eight families who were being evicted that very day. We believe over time, some tenants with unscrupulous landlords could lose their housing as a result of the bill.

If you would like to ask Gov. Reynolds to veto the bill, go to https://governor.iowa.gov/contact and click on “Register an Opinion.”

• Finally, the ICC continues to work in opposition to HF 434, which would provide over the counter contraception. Go to www.iowacatholicconference.org/voter-voice/ for all of our action alerts and suggested messages for legislators. Thanks for your participation in our legislative network!

(Tom Chapman is executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.)

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Iowa Catholic Conference provides status update on legislation

By Tom Chapman
For The Catholic Messenger

The first legislative deadline or “funnel,” at the Iowa State Capitol was March 5. A bill must have passed its first committee by then or it is considered dead for the session. Budget and tax bills, however, don’t have a deadline. During the next couple of weeks, the House and Senate will focus on debating bills passed by committee.

• The House Judiciary Committee passed HF 442, a bill that would provide additional legal protections for mobile home park residents. An amendment was approved which makes the bill just a blank placeholder for future negotiations as they work something out.

• The same committee also passed a bill regarding fundamental parental rights (HF 714). The bill intends to codify current case law in Iowa that the right to direct the care and education of a child is a parent’s fundamental right.

• HSB 240, which passed the House Education Committee, would double the tuition and textbook tax credit taken by parents to 25% of the first $2,000 in educational expenses.

• The committee also passed HSB 242 to allow private nonprofit groups to run charter schools. The Student First scholarship program, HSB 243, passed a subcommittee but was not considered for a vote by the full Education Committee. The program would offer state-funded scholarships for some public school students to attend a nonpublic school. A diverse number of parents were present to speak in favor of the bill. What the Legislature finally passes regarding parental choice in education has not yet been decided.

• The Senate State Govern­ment Committee, unfortunately, did not consider a bill introduced last week, SF 508, which would have improved statistical reporting of abortions. SF 508 would have helped address assertions that we have heard about the safety of abortion and complications. The public would also have received some aggregated data to help inform discussions about other public policy questions. Were the mothers objects of abuse? Do more abortions occur because women see no other choice economically? Are baby girls or those with genetic abnormalities aborted at greater rates?

In addition, the committee did not bring up SF 436, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which would have provided a basic balancing test between the state’s interest in regulating an area of law and the burden that places on a person’s religious practice. Sometimes people assume this bill only has to do with LGBTQ issues but that’s not so. Here’s an example: Iowa’s constitution currently says a person has a fundamental right to an abortion. Iowa also has a law that allows medical personnel to decline to participate in an abortion. Let’s say a nurse at a hospital is asked to assist with an elective abortion of a baby with a genetic anomaly. She refuses to assist and the hospital fires her. This is a scenario where the RFRA would give the nurse an argument in court — that’s all.

• Finally, HF 703 did not advance. The bill, supported by the ICC, would have required the Labor Commissioner to adopt standards on the mitigation of infectious diseases during medical emergencies, including COVID, by employers. It also required prioritization of inspections.

List of bills: alive and dead

Following the funnel deadline, here are some bills that are alive:

• Constitutional amendment clarifying that abortion is not a fundamental right — support

• Constitutional amendment providing voting rights to people coming out of prison — support

• Penalties for human trafficking — support

• State-funded scholarships for students to attend nonpublic school — support

• Increase in tuition and textbook tax credit — support

• Legal protections for mobile home park residents — support

• Codifying case law on parents’ rights — support

• Phase-out for child care assistance “cliff effect” — support

• Increase tax credit for adoptive parents — support

• Requiring employers to treat employees who adopt a child in the same manner as biological parents of a child for the purposes of employment policies — support

• Providing a birth certificate for non-viable birth (miscarriages) — support

• Affordable housing funds/ eviction protection — support• Penalties for elder abuse —support

• Eliminating permits to carry weapons — oppose

• Requiring use of e-verify by businesses — oppose

• Cutting benefits for unemployed workers — oppose

• New asset test for food stamp recipients — oppose

• Over the counter contraception — oppose

• Allowing landlords to refuse federal Section 8 housing vouchers as payment — oppose

Here are a few issues that didn’t make it past the deadline:

• Requiring public schools to offer special ed at the location of the nonpublic school — support

• New committee to review commutations of life sentences – support

• Improved reporting on abortion complications and causes — support

• “Alternatives to abortion” program funding — support

• Bringing back the death penalty — oppose

• Legalization of assisted suicide — oppose

Some of these issues may return as appropriations bills or amendments.

(Tom Chapman is executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.)

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Update on refugee resettlement program, energy efficiency

By Tom Chapman
For The Catholic Messenger

Representatives of EMBARC, Lutheran Services in Iowa, Visiting Nurse Services, Catholic Charities and the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) were at the State Capitol last week advocating for an expansion of the RefugeeRISE program. This program provides job readiness skills to ref­ugees who’ve lived in Iowa 10 or fewer years. There’s still a serious need for trained workers in both rural and urban areas of our state.
RefugeeRISE AmeriCorps, launched in late 2015 through the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service, is administered by EMBARC. Currently, 17 AmeriCorps members serve in seven teams in Des Moines, Marshalltown and Waterloo.

Tom Chapman
Tom Chapman

Senate File 2153 would offer $350,000 from the state to match $650,000 in federal funds to expand the RefugeeRise program. The bill was scheduled for a subcommittee hearing after press deadline. The ICC will let you know how it goes.

In other legislative news:

• Along with Interfaith Power and Light, the ICC is advocating for a bill, SF 2182, that would provide matching funds for nonprofit corporations to complete energy efficiency projects. The grants would be made through the Iowa Energy Center. Many nonprofit agencies are in older facilities and a grant program would assist their energy efficiency efforts.

• The Senate unanimously passed SF 2288, which would provide for additional confidentiality for juvenile court records. The bill goes to the House. This would help enable juvenile offenders, when they’re older, to more easily get a job without being stigmatized as a criminal. It would still allow for the public to know about violent criminals in their community.

• The Iowa Senate also unanimously voted for SF 2191 to establish an office in the Department of Public Safety to combat human trafficking.

• The ICC supports a bill, HF 2386, to enable the termination of parental rights when the court finds “clear and convincing evidence” that the child was conceived as a result of sexual abuse. The abuser’s parental rights could be terminated as a result of their perpetrating the sexual abuse.

The ICC also supports SF 2238, which would require mandatory reporters of child abuse (such as social workers, teachers, etc.) to report all abuse of all children. Currently it is not required to report abuse of children aged 12 to 17 committed by non-caretakers. One reason given for this exception is the possibility that some young people will not seek assistance following a sexual assault if they believe the abuse will not be kept confidential. The ICC believes the current exception could have the effect of protecting abusers.

• The federal government gave approval to the State of Iowa to proceed with its Medicaid “privatization” or “modernization” efforts. A bill providing for additional legislative oversight of Medicaid, Senate File 2213, is moving through the process. The Catholic bishops have consistently held that health care is a natural human right and low-income people should get the care they need.

• Even though the “doctor-prescribed suicide” bills are dead for the session, a subcommittee hearing for the Senate bill, SF 2051, was to be held at the Capitol today, March 3. Proponents want to keep the issue in the news.

• An Iowa statewide poll has found majority support of driver’s licenses for all immigrants, regardless of immigration status. The ICC has been working in support of this issue with other groups for several years with little success. The poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling for the ACLU, found that 58 percent of all Iowa caucus-goers support driver’s licenses for immigrants, regardless of immigration status. House File 2318, introduced by Rep. John Kooiker (R-Boyden), would have provided for such licenses to be issued to immigrants regardless of authorization status. However, the bill was introduced at the legislative deadline.

Finally, millions of working poor families find it increasingly difficult to meet their daily needs and achieve financial security. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) are two important social provisions that help struggling families escape poverty. Claiming these tax credits can aid in securing better housing, pursuing quality education, obtaining dependable transportation, covering out-of-pocket health care costs, or paying for quality childcare. If you are a low-income person and work, you may qualify. Go to www.eitcoutreach.org for more information.

(Tom Chapman is executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.)

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