Different week – same story. There’s still no deal at the legislature regarding funding for public schools. Republicans have proposed a $100 million increase and the Democrats have proposed a $200 million increase. This disagreement is holding up completion of the state budget.

In the meantime, we have put two new alerts up on our website. As usual, several issues that had been put aside earlier in the session have come back to be considered in appropriations bills. Please take the time to send a message to your legislator through these alerts.

We believe that the needs of the poor and vulnerable, including the unborn, should be given special consideration during the budget process. One place this can happen is in the appropriations bill for the state’s human services, Senate File 505. The Iowa Senate and House have sent SF 505 to a conference committee for consideration. Click here for a nonpartisan analysis of the House and Senate versions of the bill.

The bill spends nearly $2 billion from the state’s general fund for health and human services programs. Some items for discussion in SF 505:

  • The House version eliminates about $3 million in government family planning funding for abortion providers, and sends the family planning money to other public and private health care entities. While we do not necessarily support the funding of all the family planning services offered through the state’s Medicaid program, we believe that public funds should not subsidize the abortion business when there are many other health care providers available. Abortion clinics do not provide a wide continuum of medical care.
  • The House version of SF 505 keeps the current level of funding and eligibility for the child care assistance program. The Senate version of the bill includes help for additional parents by increasing the income eligibility from 145 percent to 160 percent of the federal poverty level. This is about an $8 million impact to the budget.
  • The House also eliminates an allocation of about $200,000 to provide tax preparation assistance for low-income Iowans.

The Senate has passed SF 510, the “standings” appropriations bill. It includes several provisions supported by the ICC, including:

  • Funding a pilot program to assist refugees. The proposal would allocate about $750,000 to train refugees to assist other refugees in accessing community resources such as food, clothing, shelter, employment, English language training, and orientation to a new community and culture. Refugees are present in the U.S. legally.
  • Funding to fight human trafficking. SF 510 requires the state to conduct additional outreach programs to help the public recognize and report incidents of human trafficking, as well as require training for law enforcement personnel on the issue. The bill also increases the penalty for human trafficking in the Iowa Code, making it a forcible felony. Unfortunately, millions of people are trafficked every year, including some in our own Iowa communities.
  • A requirement for employers to 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.

Send a message to your legislator today!

FUNDING FOR SPECIALTY COURTS

As we approach the end of the session, many types of state programs hang in the balance as legislators work to balance the budget.

The judicial budget bill, SF 496, is still in a conference committee. The House version of the bill funds the budget at the same level as the current fiscal year – $174.6 million. There is concern that this would require some specialty courts – such as the Family Wellness Court in Scott County – to be discontinued. These courts offer a way for non-violent offenders to focus on rehabilitation outside the prison system. The “return to crime” rate is less. Keeping these courts in operation has been shown to be cost-effective.

You can send a message to your legislator through our Action Center, even if we have not specifically provided a sample message.

FEDERAL ISSUES

The U.S. Catholic bishops last week called for extensive reforms of the immigrant detention system. They urged Congress and the administration to build a system that affords due process protections, honors human dignity and minimizes the use of detentions.

“It is time for our nation to reform this inhumane system, which unnecessarily detains persons, especially vulnerable populations, who are no threat to us and who should be afforded due process and legal protections,” said Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration. Such vulnerable groups include asylum-seekers, families and children, and victims of human trafficking.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, New York, member of the committee, pointed to the availability of alternatives to detention, such as community-based case management models, which are proven to be both cost-effective and successful in ensuring that immigrants appear at their court proceedings.

The report, which contains recommendations for changing the current detention system, can be found at http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-and-refugee-services/upload/unlocking-human-dignity.pdf.

The USCCB Office of Catholic Education has expressed support for the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held the hearing on the issue on May 14.

Since its inception, the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (DC-OSP) has provided an educational lifeline for nearly 6,000 low-income families in the District of Columbia. The average family receiving a scholarship makes less than $22,000 per year.

“The Catholic Church has unequivocally taught that parents have the right and responsibility to serve as the primary educators of their children. As the Second Vatican Council taught in its Declaration on Christian Education, Gravissimum Educationis, parents have the primary and inalienable right and duty to educate their children and must enjoy freedom in their choice of schools,” said Sister John Mary Fleming, executive director for Catholic Education of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

AND FINALLY,

The Diocese of Sioux City is sponsoring educational sessions on human trafficking next month in Carroll and Storm Lake. For more information, go to www.scdiocese.org/humantrafficking.