We’re pleased to report that two of our legislative priorities moved forward last week.

House Study Bill 138, regulating payday loans, was introduced last Monday and passed a subcommittee on Thursday. We support the bill. HSB 138 would help customers avoid the debt cycle by allowing them a 90-day period to pay off the debt without repeat borrowing. Now our job is to convince the House Commerce Committee to move on the bill.

Senate File 269 increases the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.75. The bill passed the Senate Labor Committee and will soon be eligible for debate in the Senate. The current minimum wage falls short for its failure to provide sufficient resources for individuals to form and support families. More than 75 percent of Iowa workers that would be directly affected by an increase are age 20 or over.

Another bill we support, Senate File 144, is scheduled to have a subcommittee meeting on Thursday. The bill would start a pilot program to train refugees to provide direct assistance to their refugee communities, and fund current English-language instruction programs.

If you haven’t yet had an opportunity to send a message to your legislator on these bills, go to www.votervoice.net/icc/home. If you have sent a message, thank you very much!

At a subcommittee meeting last week we expressed our concerns about Senate File 31. The intent of the bill is to outlaw sexual orientation “conversion therapy” for minors. We are concerned that the scope of the bill as drafted is so broad it would make counselors reluctant to work with issues of sexuality with young people. We also are concerned it could prohibit speech regarding what the Church teaches about human sexuality and counseling young people to refrain from sexual activity.

Senate File 239 has been introduced. The bill would reinstate the death penalty for certain crimes. The ICC opposes the bill, as we believe society can defend itself against unjust aggressors without having to use the death penalty. As the Iowa bishops said in 1998, “We oppose reinstatement of the death penalty to send a message that we can break the cycle of violence, that we need not take life for life.”

The bill is unlikely to advance. If you’re interested in national efforts against the use of the death penalty, go to www.catholicsmobilizing.org.

Another bill having to do with sentencing policies, Senate Study Bill 1185, was introduced last week. Under current Iowa law, a minor who commits first-degree murder must serve a life sentence without parole. The ICC has opposed this because we believe juveniles should not be treated as if they were equal to adults in their moral and cognitive development. Their culpability may be lessened. In addition, 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.

SSB 1185, while allowing for a more individualized determination of sentences, would unfortunately still permit a life sentence without parole for juveniles.

EDUCATION CELEBRATION – MARCH 3

You’re invited to participate in the “Education Celebration” rally for nonpublic schools on Tuesday, March 3 at the state Capitol. From what we hear from our friends at the Iowa Alliance for Choice in Education, it looks like we’re going to have good attendance.

The keynote speaker at the noon rally will be Virginia Walden-Ford. Walden-Ford is a founding member of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. Before and after the rally, there will be time for you to visit with your legislators about the current School Tuition Organization program and Education Savings Accounts.

FEDERAL ISSUES

Last week, a federal district court in Texas temporarily blocked the implementation process of President Obama’s executive actions on the expansion of deferred action programs for some undocumented immigrants.

“The unfortunate decision by the Texas circuit court in this lawsuit has the effect of confusing, frightening, and discouraging eligible immigrants from applying,” said Jeanne M. Atkinson, executive director of CLINIC. “We believe this is a temporary set-back and look forward to the decision of the appellate court.” CLINIC was founded by the U.S. Catholic bishops and serves as their immigration legal support agency.

(USCCB) – Congress should reaffirm the principle that government “should not force anyone to stop offering or covering much-needed legitimate health care” because of a conscientious objection to abortion or other procedures, said Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore. In a February 13 letter to the House of Representatives, the bishops, who chair the Committee on Pro-Life Activities and the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), urged legislators to support and co-sponsor the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (H.R. 940).

“It is increasingly obvious that Congress needs to act to protect conscientious objection to the taking of innocent human life,” wrote Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Lori.

In addition, the bishops said that H.R. 940 would incorporate respect for rights of conscience into the Affordable Care Act, allowing those who purchase, provide and sponsor health coverage under the Act to opt out of abortion or other specific items that violate their moral and religious convictions.

AND FINALLY,

This Tuesday, Feb. 24, is the annual Iowa Catholic Conference legislative breakfast at the Capitol. The bishops and several members of our board and committees will be meeting with state legislators. Please take some time this week to pray for our legislators. Many are spending significant time away from their families and regular jobs and doing the best they can for the state.