LAST WEEK AT THE CAPITOL

The Iowa House Education Committee passed a bill last week to provide additional spending flexibility for nonpublic community-based preschools, such as Catholic schools, that participate in the state-funded preschool program. The bill, House File 156, also includes transportation funding provisions to assist public schools. HF 156 is now eligible to be debated on the House floor.

The first subcommittee meeting was held last Thursday for Senate File 107, which would open a “window” to file a lawsuit to all claims of sexual abuse, even if previously time-barred, for a period of three years. Iowa’s current law allows for victims to file a lawsuit against perpetrators and institutions for four years after they discover the injury caused by sexual abuse. This can be many years later.

We oppose changing the statute of limitations retroactively. There are plans to hold another subcommittee meeting on the bill. We’ll keep you posted.

The Iowa Catholic Conference participated in two subcommittee meetings for House Study Bill 94, which would regulate debit “pay cards” similarly to payment by check or direct deposit. Payment of employees by debit cards is fairly new and state law has not caught up to this practice. Some employees have found it difficult and more costly to check a balance and compare hours worked to pay. Our message to legislators is that the state should help assure that people are paid what they’re due (already state law), and can easily access the money they’ve been paid.

NEW ACTION ALERTS

Action alerts in support of the following three bills are up in our Action Center at www.votervoice.net/icc/home. By clicking on the link, you can read about the bills and send a message to your legislator.

Senate File 144 – refugee training

Senate Study Bill 1092 – temporary visitors driver’s license

House File 58 – ultrasound

Introduced last week, SF 144 would fund a refugee family support pilot program at about $2.2 million over three years. The grants would fund organizations to train refugee community navigators to educate and provide direct assistance to their respective refugee communities. Another section of the bill would increase funding for a program to improve learning, literacy, cultural competencies and integration among refugees.

Refugees are present in the U.S. legally. Every year the President of the United States authorizes the admission of a certain number of refugees into the country, about 70,000 this year. Each refugee undergoes an extensive security clearance process. Catholic organizations resettle about 30 percent of the refugees who enter our country. Here in Iowa, Catholic Charities resettles about 200-300 refugees each year. Other organizations provide resettlement services as well.

The U.S. government provides transitional assistance only for the first 90 days. This leaves many Iowa communities with an influx of refugees who are in great need of help.

We discussed SSB 1092 in detail last week. Supportive legislators are meeting with advocates, especially law enforcement personnel, in an effort to build a greater base of support. Senate Study Bill 1092 would make it possible for a resident of Iowa to obtain a limited driver’s license without presenting a social security number or document of authorized presence issued by the United States. We believe this would help immigrants have better family lives and would improve roadway safety.

HF 58 would require that prior to performing an abortion, a physician must certify that the woman has undergone an ultrasound imaging of the baby and that the woman was given the opportunity to view the ultrasound image. We believe this bill could be part of a truly informed consent process for women and reduce the number of abortions.

Other bills of interest include:

Senate File 146 – human trafficking – Support

SF 146 would require the state to conduct outreach, public awareness, and training programs for state agencies and the public to recognize and report incidents of human trafficking. Feb. 8th was the first International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking. It was the feast day of Sudanese slave St. Josephine Bakhita who, after being freed, became a Canossian Sister and was canonized in 2000. Millions of people are trafficked every year, including some in our own Iowa communities.

Senate Study Bill 1151, minimum wage increase – Support

SSB 1151 would increase the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.75 an hour.

House File 141 – drug testing of FIP (welfare) recipients – Oppose

Under HF 141, FIP (Family Investment Program – welfare) recipients would be required to pay for a drug test. Those who test positive for drugs would lose eligibility for benefits and could not re-apply for a year. Dependent children could still receive assistance.

It is challenging to develop a policy that helps the needy without enabling the dependence of those who should support themselves. However, we should not have a policy that requires us to abandon those who can’t help themselves, or would be able to help themselves with a little more patience and help. As a practical matter, we are also concerned that some parents would be discouraged from applying at all and end up hurting their children.

House File 142 – reduced marriage license fee – Support

HF 142 would reduce application fee from $35 to $5 for a license to marry based upon the completion of premarital counseling. We are looking at this bill as a positive way to support stronger marriages. HF 142 was filed this week and the outlook is unclear at the moment.

Other bills we expect to see soon include:

You can search for information on all of these bills and their sponsors on the General Assembly’s website, www.legis.iowa.gov.

AND FINALLY,

It was announced last week that our Holy Father, Pope Francis, will address a joint meeting of Congress on Sept. 24, 2015. This will be the first time a pope has addressed Congress.