The 2015 Iowa legislative session adjourned last Friday, June 5, after the leaders of the Senate, controlled by Democrats, and the House, controlled by Republicans, came to a budget agreement. One of the most hard-fought issues – a funding increase for Iowa’s public schools – was finally resolved. Legislators agreed to a compromise that includes an increase of $55.7 million of “one-time money” from the state’s savings account, and a $50 million or so increase which will be included in the base funding next year.

As you may know, the ICC does not typically take positions for or against budget bills but may address certain issues of interest within these bills. Last Wednesday night both the Iowa House and Senate passed SF 505, the human services budget bill. The bill spends about $1.8 billion for many important human services programs including Medicaid. Several issues we were working on had a positive outcome in SF 505:

  • The initial House version of SF 505 included an amendment that would eliminate government family planning funds from going to abortion providers. In the final compromise, this provision was eliminated. However, the chambers agreed to require that before an abortion is performed, that the physician would certify that the woman has been given the opportunity to view an ultrasound image of the fetus as part of the standard of care. We have been working on this issue for years.
  • There is $100,000 in funding for the pilot program for refugee services. It is less than hoped for, but still a positive step forward that can be improved upon next year.
  • There is a small increase in eligibility for parents to receive child care assistance, from 145 percent of the federal poverty level to 150 FPL.
  • An allocation for tax preparation help for low-income people was retained.

We are also grateful for the way that leaders of both parties came together on these issues. SF 505 now goes to the governor. Your messages to legislators helped make a difference on our issues!

One of the last bills of the year is typically the “standings” appropriations bill. It makes adjustments to appropriations that are required by state law. This year’s version of standings, SF 510, contained status quo funding of $8.6 million for the transportation of nonpublic school students. (If fully funded, the appropriation would be $9.96 million.) School districts control how this money is expended either by providing the service themselves, contracting it out, or reimbursing parents.

We were pleased to see that the final version of SF 510 included provisions we supported to fight human trafficking, including funding for outreach programs to help the public and government employees recognize and report incidents of human trafficking.

Unfortunately, SF 510 did not include a part of the Senate version that would have required 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.

The final version of SF 510 kept the status quo of an “opt-out” for public school parents regarding information on human growth and development used in classrooms. The ICC supports public policies that help parents in exercising their right to choose the kind of education best suited to the needs of their children. There had been an “opt-in” proposal.

A few other notes from the last week of the legislative session:

  • The months-long fight between Democrats and Republicans over public school funding made it impossible for legislators to address support for nonpublic school students in the final days of the session. Before the next session begins in January, we will be working with our partners at Iowa Alliance for Choice in Education and the Iowa Association of Christian Schools, as well as supportive legislators, to fine-tune additional proposals to help parents choose the kind of education best suited to the needs of their children.
  • A couple of positive aspects of the education appropriations bill passed last week is that it funds some textbooks for private school students, and adds flexibility for schools in using state preschool funds.
  • The justice systems budget bill contained status quo funding for victim assistance grants. A million-dollar cut proposed by the Iowa House would have impacted Catholic Charities’ and other domestic violence programs.
  • Regrettably, SF 492 never made it to the floor of the House although it had been on the debate calendar. The bill would have funded a framework for longer-term case management services in case of disaster. Catholic Charities is typically involved in the community response following a disaster. The bill is still eligible for the legislature to consider next year.

ABORTION RATE DROPS

The Associated Press is reporting that abortion rates have dropped nearly everywhere in the U.S. since 2010. Here in Iowa, the number of abortions has dropped from about 5,400 in 2010 to 4,423 in 2013. You can see the Iowa data for yourself here. A number of abortion clinics have closed in Iowa in the last few years while we have one of the least restrictive abortion laws in the country.

There are all kinds of speculation from abortion rights and pro-life groups as to why this decrease is happening, from increased use of longer-lasting implantable contraception, advances in ultrasound technology for clearer images of the baby, to a wave of abortion-restriction laws.

WE ARE SALT AND LIGHT

The U.S. bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development has a new website called WeAreSaltAndLight.org to help Catholics respond to Jesus’ call to be “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” (Mt. 5:13-16). We hope you take a look.

AND FINALLY,

We’re working on our comprehensive review of the 2015 Iowa legislative session. You can look for it in your email inbox soon.