Iowa Update


As you dig out from the latest snowstorm, I'd like to give you a preview of the 2010 legislative session in Iowa. Sorry for the length this time, but there's a lot to cover. This is the first of what will normally be weekly updates during the session.

The second session of the 83rd Iowa General Assembly will convene this coming Monday, Jan. 11. The leadership has decided to cut the number of days that legislators will be reimbursed for expenses from 100 to 80. Since the end of the session typically comes close to when the "per diem" ends, that would put the end of the session around March 31. This timeframe will make it more difficult to advance issues other than the budget and other priorities of the leadership, but we'll be ready to work from day one.

The Iowa Catholic Conference has five committees. The Communications Committee helps us get the word out about what we're doing. The other four are Education, Family Life, Pro-Life and Social Concerns. Let's take a look at the issues we're likely to work on from these committees.


There is always a great deal of legislative activity on 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.

There is already an unfortunate recommendation to cut the Educational Opportunities Act (EOA) tax credit program, which help nonpublic schools raise private money for scholarships. The problems with the Iowa Film Office tax credits have put all tax credit programs under scrutiny. We agree that all tax credit programs should be reviewed for their usefulness to the state.

The governor's tax credit review panel on Friday called for keeping the EOA tax credits but capping them at $5 million rather than $7.5 million, and reducing the credit percentage to 40 percent rather than the current 65 percent. This would be mean fewer dollars for scholarships and making it more difficult to raise those dollars.

We will definitely be working to keep the status quo with the Educational Opportunities scholarships. The tax credits are already capped (unlike some other programs), the program helps low-income children, and the citizens of Iowa know exactly what benefit they receive - great student achievement. In addition, every child who attends a nonpublic school saves the state money, because the state and local governments do not have to pay for their education.

We are also very concerned about cuts in funding for services for nonpublic school students, particularly in the area of textbooks and transportation. The reality is that funding for textbooks is less than what was appropriated in 1992. Transportation funding for nonpublic school students is about the same as in 1992 and falls more than 20 percent short of what is actually needed.

Finally, we will be working to make a change in the Iowa Code allowing state textbook funds to be used for instructional technology.


The main issue from our Family Life Committee is asking the legislature to pass an amendment to Iowa's constitution which would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. We believe that the people of Iowa should be able to vote on such an important issue, and that can only take place if the legislature passes the amendment in two successive sessions.

The legislative leadership is adamant that the debate on this issue is over and that an amendment will not reach the floor. In fact, the debate is not over and there will be efforts to get this bill on the floor. We encourage you to contact your legislators by email or phone, even if you have previously done so. This is a new session! You can go directly to our website at to download a flier with questions and answers on the issue and click on "Action Center" to send a message to your legislator.

We also have concerns about the religious conscience aspects of the issue and its effects on the church. In the past, state laws have largely been in harmony with the church's view of marriage. Now, as in other states, we believe that same-sex marriage will be an occasion for conflict. We are concerned about requirements for benefits, the provision of the church's moral teaching in Catholic schools, denial of access to government benefits, and the licensing of adoption services, among other areas.

In his most recent encyclical letter, "Charity in Truth," Pope Benedict XVI said, "States are called to enact policies promoting the centrality and the integrity of the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman, the primary vital cell of society, and to assume responsibility for its economic and fiscal needs, while respecting its essentially relational character."


There will be a bill introduced called the "Women's Right to Know Act," which provides for an informed consent process of at least 24 hours before an abortion is performed. Women would have the right to view an ultrasound if they wished. There is an exception in the informed consent bill for an abortion that would be required in a medical emergency.

Since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, the practice of abortion has been exempt from many medical standards, including informed consent.

You are invited to participate in the Prayer for Life Day 2010. Nationally-known neuroscience and bioethics expert Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk is coming to Des Moines on Feb. 8. He is presenting workshops on stem cell research and end-of-life issues/euthanasia beginning at 10 a.m. at the Catholic Pastoral Center. Reservations are required to attend the morning educational workshop and lunch. Please call (515) 237-5016 by Feb. 3.

Later that day, everyone is invited to a "Lobbying 101" workshop in the Legislative Dining Room on the ground floor in the Capitol at 2:30 p.m. It will be followed by a Prayer for Life Rally at 3:30 p.m. Des Moines Bishop Richard Pates will offer a prayer.


One of our major concerns will be the impact of the state's budget shortfall on the safety net for the poor and vulnerable. There is estimated to be a shortfall of about a billion dollars. About half of that will be made up through leftover stimulus and rainy days funds, but it will still be a difficult budget year.

You may have seen a story in the news this week about the Iowa Catholic Conference support for
regulation of payday loans, which can carry interest rates of 400 percent. We are encouraging the legislature to limit the interest rate on payday loans to 36 percent. We believe the current situation is unjust especially since these loans appeal to people who are in a precarious financial state to begin with. Only one percent of these loans are made to one-time borrowers. There will be legislation filed to deal with this issue and we'll be asking for your help when the time comes.

There are also plans to introduce a bill 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 to have grown up here, stayed in school, and kept out of trouble. We believe the legislation would be a good building block for immigration reform and help add talented, motivated, multi-lingual and multi-cultural people to our workforce. Several states including Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois and Kansas have this policy.

At the national level, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) announced steps on Jan. 6 to push for the enactment of
immigration reform legislation in 2010. Bishop John C. Wester, bishop of Salt Lake City, Utah, and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, and Bishop Howard J. Hubbard, bishop of Albany, New York, and chairman of the International Policy Committee of the USCCB, made the announcement.

"It is our view, and that of others, that the American public, including the Catholic and other faith communities, want a humane and comprehensive solution to the problems which beset our immigration system, and they want Congress to address this issue," said Bishop Wester.

Steps announced by Bishop Wester include:

  • The launch of a nationwide postcard campaign under the Justice for Immigrants campaign, with 1.5 million postcards already ordered;
  • The launch of  two Web sites, a new Justice for Immigrants website with tools for parishes (, and the National Migration Week website, which provides other resources (; and
  • A nationwide action alert asking for Congress to enact immigration reform as soon as possible. The alert is located on the Justice for Immigrants website.

Bishop Hubbard, chairman of the International Policy Committee, spoke to the root causes of irregular migration and how the long-term and humane solution to the problem is integral human development.


Feb. 1 - Iowa Catholic Conference Legislative Mass, 7 p.m. at St. Ambrose Cathedral in Des Moines. Everyone is invited. Dubuque Archbishop Jerome Hanus, OSB will be presiding. 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 encourage everyone to come to the legislative Mass to pray with our legislators. We will also pray in thanksgiving for their service to the people of Iowa.

Feb. 2 - Iowa Catholic Conference Legislative Breakfast at the Capitol.

Feb. 8 - Prayer for Life Day at the Catholic Pastoral Center in Des Moines and at the Capitol. See the flier on our website for more information.


Some of you have asked about the Iowa Institute for Social Action conference. There is not an Institute being held this month, but there are ongoing discussions regarding the scheduling of a conference later this year. You will hear more about this later.

Those of you who are Mediacom customers (as I am) did not receive the December newsletter because we could not get it delivered. Don't hesitate to check our website or email me for updated information. You can also update your email address with us.

Tom Chapman

Executive Director
Iowa Catholic Conference