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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