The Iowa legislative session began on Monday with the usual ceremonies and opening statements by leaders. Rep. Linda Upmeyer (R-Clear Lake) was sworn in as Iowa’s first female Speaker of the House. She said that the legislature should pursue policies that increase opportunities, use technology to remove barriers, and make Iowa the best state in the nation to grow a business and raise a family.

Sen. Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs), Senate Majority Leader, said the legislature’s focus this year should be bringing more workers and their families into Iowa’s middle class.

On Tuesday, Gov. Branstad presented his Condition of the State message. He proposed a state budget of $7.4 billion, an increase of about two percent. Most of the increase goes to Medicaid and K-12 education. The governor also discussed efforts to increase the use of renewable energy in the state, and suggested that racial disparities in the Iowa criminal justice system be addressed.

A relatively small but welcome item in the governor’s budget is a $90,000 increase in the state appropriation for textbooks/technology for nonpublic school students.

Medicaid is the government health insurance program for low-income people. As the state transitions to a “managed-care” model from the traditional “fee for service” model, many have expressed concerns about continuity of care and ultimately being required to change medical providers.

Next week the legislature’s Health and Human Resources budget subcommittee will hear a report on steps that might be taken to help people who are having problems in the new system. One of the long-time principles of the Catholic Church regarding health care is that a system should “ensure access to quality, readily accessible, affordable, life-giving health care for all.” It’s important that Medicaid recipients get the care they need and deserve.

As bills start to move in the legislature we’ll let you know about our priority items. Click here for the 2016 ICC legislative priorities. A new resource for you this year is the “VoterVoice” app available on Google Play or in the iOS App Store. The app will ask you for your email address and what organization you’re interested in (in this case, Iowa Catholic Conference). The app will directly connect you to the action alerts of the Iowa Catholic Conference and give you legislators’ contact information.

Hopefully we’ll be seeing many of you tomorrow at the Midwest March for Life. The event begins with a Mass with the bishops of Iowa at St. Ambrose Cathedral in Des Moines at 9:30 a.m. (Saturday, Jan. 16).

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York is calling on everyone “concerned about the tragedy of abortion” to recommit to a “vision of life and love, a vision that excludes no one.” His statement, released yesterday, marks the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. Cardinal Dolan chairs the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

“Most Americans oppose a policy allowing legal abortion for virtually any reason – though many still do not realize that this is what the Supreme Court gave us,” wrote Cardinal Dolan. “Most want to protect unborn children at later stages of pregnancy, to regulate or limit the practice of abortion, and to stop the use of taxpayer dollars for the destruction of unborn children. Yet many who support important goals of the pro-life movement do not identify as ‘pro-life,’ a fact which should lead us to examine how we present our pro-life vision to others.”

Last November, the U.S. House passed H.R. 4038, The American Security against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act, which would effectively halt all resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the United States for a protracted time. The bill is scheduled to come to a vote in the U.S. Senate next Wednesday. The Justice for Immigrants campaign of the USCCB is urging a “no” vote.

Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, has said, “I call upon our public officials to work together to end the Syrian conflict peacefully so the close to four million Syrian refugees can return to their country and rebuild their homes. Until that goal is achieved, we must work with the world community to provide safe haven to vulnerable and deserving refugees who are simply attempting to survive.” To take action, go to www.justiceforimmigrants.org.

AND FINALLY,

The Center for Responsible Lending has released a poll showing that Iowa Republican caucus-goers are strongly opposed to companies issuing payday loans. It found that 60 percent of Republican caucus participants oppose payday lending. That number climbs to 82 percent after voters learn that the average Iowa payday loan carries a 268 percent annual percentage rate of interest.

The ICC has worked on legislation over the years to reform payday lending in the state. We believe that payday loans that tend towards usury contribute toward creating economic dependency and high long-term debt for families.