Iowa Newsletter


 
To: Iowa Catholic Conference Legislative Network
 
I hope you have had a blessed Christmas season. Now that we’re settling back into a daily routine, it’s time for our annual preview of the legislative session, along with some important upcoming dates.
 
UPCOMING DATES
 
At the request of Governor-elect Terry Branstad, there will be an interfaith Service of Dedication at St. Ambrose Cathedral in Des Moines on Thursday, Jan. 13 at 7 p.m. The cathedral is located at 607 High Street.
 
Des Moines Bishop Richard Pates, Cantor Linda Shivers, and Lt. Governor-elect Kim Reynolds' pastor from Osceola, Chuck DeVoss, will be part of the service. The public is invited. RSVPs are requested at www.governorbranstad.com.
 
The Prayer for Life event, co-sponsored by the Iowa Catholic Conference, will be held Tuesday, Feb. 8. The day kicks off at 9:30 a.m. at the Catholic Pastoral Center in Des Moines (601 Grand Avenue). Parking is available nearby in city ramps.
 
The main speaker is Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic manager who resigned after assisting in the performance of an abortion and viewing the baby on ultrasound. Since then, she has been traveling the country sharing her story and motivating others to continue the pro-life fight.
 
Following a training session and lunch, participants will be invited to go to the Capitol to meet their legislator and then participate in a rally in the rotunda at 3 p.m. There will be a suggested donation for lunch. Please RSVP by calling Iowa Right to Life at (515) 244-1012 or via email at iowa@iowaRTL.org.
 
The annual Legislative Mass of the Iowa Catholic Conference is also scheduled for Feb. 8, at 6 p.m. The Mass will be celebrated at St. Ambrose Cathedral in Des Moines. The public is invited to participate with the four diocesan bishops of Iowa. Des Moines Bishop Richard Pates will preside. The Mass is intended to bring Catholics together with state legislators to pray for wisdom in decision-making for all those who serve in government. We will also pray in thanksgiving for legislators’ service to the people of Iowa. The Iowa Catholic Conference legislative breakfast is Feb. 9.
 
LEGISLATIVE SESSION PREVIEW
 
Next Monday, Jan. 10 is the opening day of the 84th Iowa General Assembly. Gov. Chet Culver will give his final Condition of the State address on Tuesday, Jan. 11.
 
To recap the election results, the Democrats hold a 26-23 edge in the Iowa Senate. A special election will be held Jan. 18 for the Senate seat formerly held by Larry Noble, a Republican from Ankeny, who has been appointed commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. The Iowa House is controlled by Republicans by a 60-40 margin.
 
On Jan. 3, the Iowa House Republican leadership pre-released a 59-page bill, the “Taxpayers First Act,” which they said would save the state’s budget about $500 million over five years.
 
Some items of interest in the bill include:
 
  •  creation of a “Tax Relief Fund” for the reduction of taxes when state surpluses occur
  •  eliminate funding for the state’s required “core curriculum” for schools with the intention of developing new standards
  •  eliminate the current “free” preschool program with the intention of expanding tuition assistance for preschool based on the parents’ income
  •  end all state benefits to adult unauthorized immigrants
  •  enforce residency requirements for all human services programs
  •  reduce the number of people who would be eligible to receive family planning benefits
  •  eliminate the Iowa Power Fund and Rebuild Iowa office
  •  require state employees to pay a minimum of $50 per month for their health insurance
  •  add $16 million for court-appointed attorneys for the defense of indigents
  •  provide a $25 million appropriation to eliminate mental health waiting lists in counties; and repeal the current county-based mental health system and put a new, more uniform, system be put in place
  •  reduce funding for the state’s health care coverage commission
 
This bill is the first volley of the session, which is set to end on April 29. It wouldn’t be surprising if it went longer because of differences of opinion between a Republican House and a Democratic Senate over the state budget.
 
The Iowa Catholic Conference has five committees. The Communications Committee helps us get the word out about what we’re doing. The other four committees are Education, Family Life, Pro-Life and Social Concerns. Many of our issues don’t fall neatly in one committee or another, but let’s take a look at some of the issues we’re likely to address during the upcoming session.
 
EDUCATION
 
There is always a great deal of legislative activity regarding PreK-12 education in Iowa. Since Catholic schools are accredited by the state and generally must follow all the state’s regulations for schools, we pay very close attention to what’s going on legislatively.
 
We continue to support efforts to expand the School Tuition Organization program which helps low- and middle-income Iowans receive tuition assistance to send their children to the school of their choice.
 
As you read earlier, the state’s preschool program enacted in 2007 is being targeted for elimination by Republican leaders, to be replaced with a preschool voucher program for lower-income Iowans. We will take part in this discussion, as appropriate, with an eye toward supporting parents as the first and primary educators of children as well as sustaining the best interests of our Catholic schools.
 
Currently, many Catholic preschools receive funds from the local public school district to offer preschool that is tuition-free to the parents.
 
In addition, we will be working for additional funding for textbooks and full reimbursement for transportation of private school children.
 
FAMILY LIFE
 
The Iowa Catholic Conference continues to support an amendment to Iowa’s constitution which would recognize marriage only as a union between one man and one woman. While an amendment has good prospects in the Iowa House, the Senate Majority Leader, Michael Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs), has said that he will not call an amendment up for a vote.
 
The Church teaches that the nature of marriage is such that it can only exist between a man and a woman. They are partners in expressing love for each other and for transmitting human life. 
 
PRO-LIFE
 
Prospects for legislation which would limit abortion are brighter than they have been in years. The threatened opening of a late-term abortion clinic in Council Bluffs has increased the attention on the need for such laws. There may be several bills introduced. These bills may provide for:
 
  •  prohibition of abortions after a certain gestational age due to fetal pain
  •  prohibition of abortions performed after a webcam consultation
  •  an informed consent process – 24 hour waiting period before an abortion, with an opportunity to view an ultrasound
 
Our Catholic faith calls us to seek the protection of the unborn. Abortion, the direct killing of an innocent human being, is always gravely immoral (The Gospel of Life, 57); its victims are the most vulnerable and defenseless members of the human family.
 
It is also possible that a reinstatement of the death penalty will be proposed. The Church opposes the use of the death penalty in our society. The state already imposes a life sentence without the possibility of parole for murderers.
 
SOCIAL CONCERNS
 
An ongoing concern during the past couple of years has been the impact of the state’s budget shortfall on the safety net for the poor and vulnerable. Although the amount of the shortfall is debated, it is likely that it is several hundred million dollars.
 
It seems possible that state legislators will introduce an “Arizona-type” bill, or several bills, which would provide for additional local enforcement of federal immigration law.
 
Regular readers of this newsletter are aware that the fundamental concern of the Catholic Church is the protection of human dignity at all levels. Therefore we recognize and support the right and duty of nations to protect their borders, to prevent criminal and terrorist acts, and to safeguard culture and the rule of law. From the same principle, we also recognize the right of people to migrate, for both political and economic motives, and the obligation of hospitality for wealthier nations.
 
A state enforcement bill would affect community policing and the safety of the public. The use of police officers to enforce immigration laws can seriously undermine the relationship between local police and the communities in which they serve. Immigration law is extremely complex and local authorities would find it difficult to ascertain immigration status. Taking on the additional enforcement of federal law would be costly as well.
 
Any law that provides, or seems to provide, legal cover to racial profiling negatively affects all members of our communities, including legal residents and citizens. We believe our state would benefit from legislation that protects human dignity, encourages humane and charitable communities, and makes it possible for us to attract needed additional citizens and residents who can contribute to the life and economy of Iowa.
 
One such bill would be a proposal that in other states has been called the “DREAM Act.” This has been a long-time priority of the Conference. The legislation would allow undocumented high school graduates who are residents of Iowa to be eligible to pay in-state tuition rates at colleges and universities in the state of Iowa. The students would have grown up here, stayed in school, and kept out of trouble. We believe the legislation would be a good building block for positive immigration reform and help add talented, motivated, multi-lingual and multi-cultural people to our workforce.
 
The Iowa Catholic Conference continues to support the regulation of payday loans, which can carry interest rates of about 300 percent in Iowa. We encourage the legislature to limit the interest rate on payday loans to 36 percent.
 
Payday loans would not pose a concern if borrowers could typically pay off a loan with their next paycheck. Unfortunately, in practice, payday loans prove to be a long-term debt trap, not a quick financial fix. Because of these high fees and short terms, borrowers usually cannot both repay their payday loan in full and meet the rest of their monthly expenses.
 
A typical payday loan borrower in Iowa has 12 payday transactions per year, usually on a back-to-back basis. Unfortunately, only one percent of loans are made to one-time borrowers. It only takes a few months for the amount of fees to cost more than the loan itself.
 
A debate is shaping up over health care. There is a group of legislators who are interested in keeping the state from cooperating with the new federal health care law. There is another group interested in preparing for the 2014 implementation of the law as quickly as possible.
 
The Iowa Catholic Conference, as well as the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference, has consistently supported initiatives to make health care more readily available and affordable to all Iowans, including immigrants and their children.
 
At the same time, we want to prohibit the state from including (and financially supporting) abortion coverage in any health insurance plans offered through a new “health care exchange.” With a few exceptions, it has been the longtime policy of the state to avoid financially supporting abortions.
 
We also support the rights of medical professionals and institutions to decline to participate in procedures they find immoral.
 
There may be efforts in the legislature to follow up on the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Graham v. Florida” decision, which eliminated the possibility of a life sentence without parole for juveniles who commit a crime other than murder. The Iowa Catholic Conference has supported bills which would eliminate a life sentence without parole for juveniles for all crimes. Such a bill would not require their release at any time.
 
While we believe in responsibility, accountability and legitimate punishment, we also believe that a juvenile who commits a crime may not have the benefit of a fully-formed conscience. They may not be fully aware of the seriousness of their actions. Therefore their culpability may be lessened.
 
However, offenders who commit very serious crimes when they are juveniles may gain, with maturity, an understanding of the gravity of their crime and be able to rejoin society under some conditions.
 
RELIGIOUS CONSCIENCE
 
Developments in society during the past few years have given rise to concerns about the ability of individuals and religious institutions to exercise their religious liberty and conscience rights.
 
Religious organizations and individuals should not be forced to violate their deeply-held beliefs. Without religious conscience protections, the ability of religious organizations to live out their teachings will be diminished. We are especially concerned about the provision of social services as well as the educational ministry of Catholic schools. Examples would be: required curriculum on marriage and sex education, rental of facilities, hiring of staff, denial of access to government benefits and requirements for adoption programs.
 
The State of Iowa has a long history of protecting religious freedom as a fundamental right. We anticipate that a Religious Conscience Act will be introduced during the next session with the support of the Iowa Catholic Conference. We believe that respect for personal conscience and freedom of religion ensures all of our freedoms.
 
AND FINALLY,
 
Thanks for taking the time to go through this lengthy update. At the end of next week we plan to return to our usual weekly newsletter schedule which we provide during the legislative session.
 
I would also appreciate it if you could put the work of the Iowa Catholic Conference in your prayers from time to time. We are always in need of assistance in our discernment of the effects of legislation and the path of prudence.
 
Tom Chapman
Executive Director
Iowa Catholic Conference
 
P.S. Don’t forget to let us know when you get a new email address. Click on “Join the Network” at www.iowacatholicconference.org.