The Iowa Catholic Conference legislative breakfast takes place tomorrow at the State Capitol. The Iowa bishops, along with ICC board and committee members, will be meeting in an informal setting with legislators who stop by. Davenport Bishop Martin Amos will provide the daily prayer in both chambers. Keep an eye on our Facebook page for photos.

Lawmakers are working towards this Friday’s legislative deadline. Bills are required to pass out of a committee to remain eligible (with exceptions for budget and tax bills). That means legislators have been pushing through dozens of subcommittee meetings a day to get bills ready for committee consideration. Let’s take a look at some issues of interest to the ICC:

Starting with some good news, SF 2051, the “doctor-prescribed suicide” bill, has not yet passed out of subcommittee. There was a subcommittee meeting Wednesday with several people speaking in support and opposition to the bill. The bill would allow people with “terminal” diagnoses of six months or less to receive drugs to kill themselves. Several people from the pro-suicide group Compassion and Choices spoke in favor of the bill, including a woman who received a terminal diagnosis of six months to live three years ago.

Our main point during the subcommittee meeting on the bill was that our individual choices affect other people, even if we don’t intend them to. Passage of the bill and approval of doctor-prescribed suicide would put pressure on vulnerable people. Suicide is contagious and the state would send a mixed message by supporting Suicide Prevention Week on the one hand and assisted suicide on the other. We also encouraged legislators to look at what has happened to Oregon’s overall suicide rate since they passed assisted suicide. Spoiler: it’s gone up more than 40 percent.

House Study Bill 558 passed the House Public Safety Committee last week. The bill calls for more state and local enforcement of federal immigration law. To many, that sounds like a good idea. From our perspective, we are concerned about the bill for several reasons. It is pushing about two dozen Iowa counties to comply with all federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to hold undocumented people longer than their offense would normally allow. Some federal court cases have made it optional to detain inmates based solely upon an ICE detention order when no other probable cause exists to hold them.

On one level the bill seems unnecessary because federal policies already require much collaboration among law enforcement agencies. Whether someone is here illegally or not, nothing in current law prevents any individual from being prosecuted and convicted for crimes. We are also concerned that the bill has the potential of making everyday life more difficult for some immigrants, who may be here without papers but are productive members of our society. This legislation could also inadvertently increase crime in some communities. When communities perceive that their local law enforcement officers are operating as immigration enforcement agents, they are less likely to cooperate.

Ultimately, the complexity of the situation does not alleviate our Scriptural responsibility to “welcome the stranger” and support public policies that help immigrants provide for their families, regardless of immigration status.

We are pleased to see the introduction of SF 2153 and HF 2237, which would provide state funding for the “Refugee RISE” program. The Senate bill was referred to the Appropriations Committee so it is not subject to this week’s deadline. Refugee RISE is a statewide AmeriCorps program established to help newly-arrived refugees to become self-sufficient as soon as possible.

We support the expansion of this existing program to serve more refugees and help integrate refugees into the state. Refugees are here legally after an extensive vetting process. They are typically among the most vulnerable people in the world, fleeing dangerous situations and looking to protect their families and children. The United States admits a small percentage of worldwide refugees every year. Here in Iowa, Catholic Charities helps to resettle about 300 refugees a year.

A bill to stop the trafficking of fetal tissue following an abortion passed out of a House subcommittee last week (HF 2140) and yet another bill on the topic is on the way. We believe the use of body parts following an abortion is unethical and are pleased to see the House take action. It’s especially unsettling to know that abortionists have discussed doing abortions differently to make sure they can get the “right” body parts.

SF 2028 has passed out of the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee and referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee. The bill would create an energy efficiency matching grant program for nonprofit organizations. During a subcommittee meeting we referred to the encyclical “Laudato Si” and the pope’s challenge to protect our common home, and suggested this bill is a way to apply that principle. Many nonprofit agencies are in older facilities and a grant program would assist their energy efficiency efforts. This bill has a million dollar price tag, which will ultimately make it a tough sell in this budget environment.

SF 2082 and HF 2192 would create an office in the department of public safety to combat human trafficking. SF 2082 passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week and the House bill is moving too. The idea is that the human trafficking office would help focus some good, although fragmented, efforts already going on. We were able to discuss the fact that many Catholic organizations across the state are making this issue a priority in their educational efforts.

The ICC is also working on several issues dealing with our justice system. SF 2070 and HSB 604 would put Iowa in line with about 40 other states in keeping some juvenile court records confidential. The Catholic Charities directors and jail-prison ministry folks have encouraged our support of the legislation to help people not carry along the effects of a relatively minor mistake made while a juvenile. The NAACP and the governor’s office are working together on this as well.

We anticipate that SF 84 will pass out of a Senate committee this week. The bill would “Ban the box,” in other words, require that a business delay asking about a criminal record until later in the job application process. It would help with the re-integration of offenders in the community.

The ICC supports a bill to restore voting rights for felons, SSB 3101. We believe that people (offenders) have a responsibility to participate in the political process once their obligation to society is complete. There have been studies showing that voters are less likely to be repeat offenders.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is considering SSB 3033. It would eliminate the 90-day waiting period for a divorce if both parties agree. We have opposed the bill because when it comes to marriage, government should do no harm. The state has a legitimate interest in a waiting period for a divorce, including providing both parties with the opportunity to thoroughly contemplate the impact of divorcing and to help ensure that all issues are addressed and no advantage is taken of either party.

Last week the Senate passed SF 2125 to stop the privatization of Medicaid, the state’s health insurance program for low-income people. The House leadership has vowed they will not take up the bill. The ICC has not taken a formal position on this bill. There have been difficulties for some people in retaining their doctor or finding new medical providers during the transition to a “managed care” system. In this environment our view is that we need to encourage the state work out the difficulties as quickly as possible.

The Church has consistently held that health care in a natural human right and low-income people should get the care they need. It is possible that a bill to increase oversight of Medicaid (SF 2107) might have a better chance of passage.

And finally, helping parents have the resources to choose the school that’s right for their child is a priority for the Iowa Catholic Conference. One concrete way you can help this year is to attend the “Education Celebration” rally at the State Capitol at noon on March 1. I know it is really hard for a lot of people to get away to the capitol during the week, but it would be a great way show legislators our support for nonpublic schools. I anticipate having some updates soon on legislative activity.

The Iowa agriculture department received $9.6 million for the current fiscal year for the Water Quality Initiative. You can see a copy of the report at www.iowaagriculture.gov under “Hot Topics.”