It’s shaping up to be an interesting week at the State Capitol. It’s “funnel” week, where non-money bills in the Iowa Legislature are required to pass a committee no later than Friday to remain eligible for consideration.

It’s time to contact your legislator in support of Education Savings Accounts. A subcommittee meeting is scheduled tomorrow (Tuesday) to consider an ESA bill in the Iowa House. Please encourage your representative and senator to support ESAs. Click here for a sample message for your legislators.

Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) would allow parents who choose not to enroll their children in a public school to receive a deposit of public funds into a savings account set up by the state. This money could be used by parents for private school tuition and some other education expenses, including tutoring. The amount put into the savings account by the state would be the per-pupil state foundation aid – this year, about $5,600. The Iowa Catholic bishops have issued a statement in support of ESAs.

Of course, we need strong public schools as well. Numerous studies have found that “school choice” programs improve outcomes at public schools. In addition, public schools will retain their basic property tax levy. As Bishop Richard Pates from Des Moines has said, he always votes in favor of funding initiatives for public schools.

COMING UP

We’re still working on getting the payday loan reform bill, HSB 138, passed through the House Commerce Committee this week before the funnel deadline.

A Senate subcommittee is scheduled to consider SF 146 on Tuesday. The bill would require the state to conduct outreach, public awareness, and training programs to assist state employees and the public in recognizing and reporting incidents of human trafficking. Millions of people are trafficked every year, including some in our own Iowa communities. We hope the bill can advance.

Next, the ICC supports Senate Study Bill 1092, which would allow undocumented residents of Iowa to obtain a provisional driver’s license if they meet certain criteria. They must have an unexpired passport or an official identification card issued by a foreign government. They also must pass the same test you or I would. We look at this as a way to promote safety on our roadways and help workers get to their job. So far this bill hasn’t moved at all.

Bills supporting the ability of employees to take time off for adoptions (SF 225 and HF 116) are scheduled to move forward in both chambers this week. The ICC is supportive of the adoption process.

Action alerts are available on our website. We encourage you to use this system to send emails on bills you don’t see listed as well by clicking on “Find Officials” and “Compose Message.”

LAST WEEK AT THE CAPITOL

Thanks to the bishops and the other Iowa Catholic Conference board and committee members who were able to attend our legislative breakfast at the State Capitol last week. It was great to hear them chat about our legislative concerns with members of the General Assembly.

The bishops were also able to meet with several legislative leaders and Gov. Branstad. Among the issues discussed by the bishops were Education Savings Accounts, minimum wage increase, wage theft, driver’s licenses for immigrants, support for refugees, an “ultrasound before abortion” bill, and payday loan reform.

Several of these issues received action last week. The Iowa Senate passed SF 269, which will increase the minimum wage in Iowa from $7.25 to $8.75. The Iowa Senate also passed SF 270, which addresses wage theft. Both bills go to the House.

A Senate subcommittee approved Senate File 144 on Thursday. The bill would provide about $2.2 million in grants for 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 literacy among refugees. We expect the bill to be considered by the Senate Human Resources Committee on Monday.

Here in Iowa, Catholic Charities resettles about 300 refugees each year. The U.S. government provides transitional assistance only for the first several weeks. This leaves many Iowa communities with an influx of refugees who are in great need of help.

A House subcommittee passed House File 298, which would increase the current tuition and textbook tax credit to 50 percent of the first $1,000 in K-12 education expenses. Currently parents can receive a credit for 25 percent of the first $1,000.

Senate File 31 passed the Senate Human Resources Committee. 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 advise young people to refrain from sexual activity. The new number for the bill coming out of committee is Senate File 334.

NET NEUTRALITY

The vote by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) preserving an open Internet and preventing service providers from discriminating against content makers is a welcome move, crucial for allowing religions, including the Catholic Church, to communicate online, said Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, Feb. 26. Bishop Wester is chair of the Communications Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

The USCCB has long supported an open Internet, where neither the telephone or cable company providing access can tamper with access by consumers to any legal website or other web content.

AND FINALLY,

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