LAST WEEK AT THE CAPITOL

There’s been no visible progress on the standoff over funding for public schools in Iowa. The state spends nearly $3 billion on K-12 education from the general fund. Republicans have proposed about a $100 million increase and the Democrats have proposed a $210 million increase. This stalemate has made it very difficult for legislators to consider additional assistance for private school parents.

Both chambers have passed the state Department of Education budget. The Senate version spends about $60 million more for a total of about a billion dollars from the general fund. There are fights over several items in the budget, including funding for the state universities.

Both versions include the same funding for textbooks for nonpublic school students – $650,000. In a positive move, both allow public and nonpublic schools additional flexibility in how they spend state funds on preschool.

These bills – SF 493 and HF 658 – do not provide the state aid for public schools we discussed earlier. That comes later in the “standings” appropriations bill.

The Senate passed SF 497, the justice system budget. The House amendment to the bill was approved by the House Appropriations Committee last week. In the House, victim assistance grants were cut from $6.7 to $5.7 million. This cut is in the context of a $4 million increase in FY 2013. Victim assistance grants help fund programs such as Catholic Charities’ domestic violence program out of Council Bluffs. The House version also takes out language requiring the addition of an officer for human trafficking enforcement.

I have been hearing from legislators in both parties that funding for the refugee family pilot program is still a possibility. We have a new action alert on our website to encourage legislators to support refugees in the budget process. Other alerts may be showing up soon as the budget process continues.

STATE OF EMERGENCY DECLARED FOR BIRD FLU

Gov. Terry Branstad has declared a state of emergency due to avian influenza (bird flu). More than 20 sites in northwest Iowa have been affected. Millions of chickens and turkeys have been destroyed in an attempt to prevent the spread of the disease, which is believed to have started with wild birds. Iowa is the number one egg-producing state.

Concerned residents both within and outside of the areas affected by avian influenza are encouraged to use the Iowa Concern Hotline at 1-800-447-1985 if they have questions or concerns.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Iowa Department of Public Health consider the risk to people from these HPAI H5 infections in wild birds, backyard flocks and commercial poultry to be low. No human infections with the virus have ever been detected.

Coincidentally, SF 492 passed the Senate and a House appropriations subcommittee last week. The bill sets up a framework for implementing case management services (in addition to individual assistance) following a disaster. Case management is an important part of helping families following the initial responses to a disaster. The ICC supports the bill. Catholic Charities is often involved in the community response following the declaration of a disaster.

FEDERAL ISSUES

The U.S. House voted to disapprove House Joint Resolution 43 last week. Thanks for your help with the action alerts. The Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act (RHNDA) would force religious institutions, faith-based organizations, and pro-life advocacy organizations to hire or retain employees who publicly act in defiance of the mission of their employer. This is in violation of the freedoms of religion, speech, and association that is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Senate did not take up the measure by the end of the 30-legislative-day congressional review period and so the measure has taken effect.

AND FINALLY,

According to a report from Catholic News Service, Pope Francis said last week that individual Catholics must get involved in politics even if it may be “dirty,” frustrating and fraught with failure. Given so many problems unfolding in the world, “Do I as a Catholic watch from my balcony? No, you can’t watch from the balcony. Get right in there!” he said.