Friday is the second “funnel” deadline for non-money related bills to be passed by one chamber and approved by a committee in the other chamber. There’s still time to contact your legislator on some key issues.

Senate File 269 would increase the minimum wage in Iowa to $8.75. The bill passed the Senate back in February. Please send a message to your member of the Iowa House.

House File 573, ultrasound before an abortion. Please send a message to your Senator today in support of HF 573. The bill requires 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. The bill passed the Iowa House on March 12 and is now in the Senate.

Senate File 450, regarding human trafficking. SF 450 would require the state to conduct outreach programs to help the public recognize and report incidents of human trafficking, as well as require training for law enforcement. The bill passed the Senate earlier this month and needs to pass a House committee this week. Please send a message to your member of the Iowa House. One helpful group with resources on the issue is called “Braking Traffik,” (in the Quad Cities) at www.brakingtraffik.org.

In other news from the Iowa legislature:

Senate File 448 passed the House Judiciary Committee last week. Committing a Class A felony typically means life in prison without parole. SF 448 provides other sentencing possibilities for juveniles who commit Class A felonies (such as first degree murder), and we support that effort. This position is related to our principles of restorative justice, which include assistance for victims, crime prevention and the promotion of genuine rehabilitation. Offenders need to be held accountable for their crimes and we can’t ignore the pain that victims and their families feel. However, the law should carefully take into account the moral and cognitive development differences between a juvenile and an adult.

The ICC opposes a provision of SF 448 that still permits a life sentence without parole for juveniles. A sentence of life without parole can offer less incentive for the offender to reform or change his or her life for the better. Some young people – even those who commit terrible crimes – may be able to rejoin society outside of prison.

House File 598, regarding regulation of payday loans, is eligible for debate on the House floor. The bill is a step in the right direction as it offers the opportunity of a repayment plan for people who can’t pay their payday loans. If customers faithfully take advantage of the repayment plan, they can avoid getting into a debt cycle that could cost them thousands of dollars. If customers fail to execute the repayment plan, they could be worse off than before.

Regardless of the fate of HF 598, I have heard more bi-partisan support from more legislators about addressing the payday loan problem that I have ever heard before. So generally speaking I think the issue is moving in the right direction.

The federal Consumer Financial Protection Board announced last week it is considering proposing rules that would end payday debt traps by requiring lenders to take steps to make sure consumers can repay their loans. The proposals under consideration would also restrict lenders from attempting to collect payment from consumers’ bank accounts in ways that tend to rack up excessive fees.

The House and Senate approved a bill that sets Aug. 23 as the earliest start date for public and private high schools in Iowa. It also outlaws year-round high school. Our position has been that we support the ability of schools to set their own start date in accordance with local needs. In a procedural move, the Senate majority leader filed a “Motion to Reconsider” on the bill after it passed the Senate last week, but it still seems likely to us that SF 227 will end up on the governor’s desk.

There’s a subcommittee meeting on Monday in the House for Senate File 375. It provides that employers treat an employee who chooses to adopt in the same manner as an employee who is the biological parent of a newborn child for purposes of employment policies, benefits, and protections for the first year of the adoption. It’s important for parents to bond with their babies. We support the bill as it moves to the House.

In other news, a particular sticking point at the legislature right now is a fight over public school funding and specifically what is called “supplemental state aid.” This is one of the main funding sources for public schools, another being local property taxes.

The GOP is suggesting a 1.25 percent increase in supplemental state aid for the 2015-16 school year (about $85 million) while the Democrats are suggesting a 4 percent increase (about $200 million).

There are about 475,000 public school students in Iowa. Since such a big portion of Iowa’s budget goes to public K-12 education (a little over 40 percent), it makes it harder for the legislature to work on other parts of the budget until education is settled. So if work at the capitol seems to be slowing down, that’s one reason why.

AND FINALLY,

Make sure you take a look at a new portion of our website at www.iowacatholicconference.org. Under “Take Action” we have a new section called “Understand the Process” with links to resources on lobbying and the Iowa legislative process.

May you have a blessed Holy Week!