Last Friday was the first legislative deadline when bills were required to pass out of a committee to remain eligible (with exceptions for budget and tax bills). In the wake of the deadline we’re asking for your help with two bills in the Iowa House. Please visit our Action Center and send a message to your legislator:

(Support) House File 2329 would stop the transfer or sale of fetal tissue in Iowa after an abortion. Two issues are involved with this bill. The first is abortion itself: a direct attack on human life during its most vulnerable time. The second is a longstanding practice of obtaining fetal organs and tissues through abortion. According to Cardinal Seán O’Malley, OFM Cap., archbishop of Boston and chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), “both actions fail to respect the humanity and dignity of human life. This fact should be the center of attention in the present public controversy.”

(Oppose) House File 2276 prohibits the state, counties and cities from limiting or restricting enforcement of federal immigration law in Iowa. The Iowa Catholic Conference opposes the bill.

The bill calls for more state and local enforcement of federal immigration law. To many, that sounds like a good idea. However we are concerned about the bill for several reasons. The legislation 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.

Essentially the bill 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.

Your messages to legislators on these issues would be greatly appreciated!

Lots of good news to report from last week:

We are pleased to report the introduction of a bill that would set up a pilot program for Education Savings Accounts. ESAs allow parents who choose not to enroll their children in a public school to receive a deposit of public funds into a savings account set up by the state.

House File 2284, sponsored by Rep. Jake Highfill (R-Johnston), would create about 200 ESA slots in the Waterloo and Sioux Center school districts. To qualify, the family’s income would have to be less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $45,000, for a family of four.

Families would receive $5,854 per student in order to cover the cost of attending a non-public school. This bill was assigned to the House Appropriations Committee so it is eligible for consideration during the rest of the session.

While this ESA pilot would be available for relatively few families to start, it’s a foot in the door towards expanding the program statewide. Already legislators have set up some great ways to help parents pay for the school of their choice, such as the School Tuition Organization (STO) scholarships, and HF 2284 would open up access to educational opportunities for additional families.

P.S. A week from Tuesday, March 1, is the Education Celebration for nonpublic schools at the State Capitol. We hope to see you there.

Both “doctor-prescribed suicide” bills died in committee. The bills would have allowed assisted suicide by permitting people with “terminal” diagnoses of six months or less to receive drugs to kill themselves. While we obviously have religious reasons for opposing them, there are many practical reasons for opposition as well, not the least of which is creating pressure on other vulnerable people into considering suicide.

House Study Bill 628 died in the House Commerce Committee. The bill was introduced just a week ago and passed through a subcommittee. The bill would have authorized payday loan companies to set up another type of high-interest loan, “flexible credit loans,” with an annual interest rate of 288 percent. For example, the first month’s interest on a $1,000 loan would be $120.

The Iowa Catholic Conference registered in opposition to the bill because of its impact on low-income customers by trapping them in long-term high-interest debt.

Senate Study Bill 3033 died in committee as well. We had opposed the bill because it eliminated the state’s waiting period before a divorce. We believe 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 divorce. A waiting period helps ensure that all issues are addressed and no advantage is taken of either party, particularly when there might be children involved.

House File 2061 passed the House Education Committee. The bill gives private schools additional options for high-quality accreditation.

Senate File 2070 and House Study Bill 604 passed out of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees last week. The bills would provide for more confidentiality of juvenile court records. The Iowa Catholic Conference supports the bills as they would 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.

Looking ahead, representatives of Lutheran Services in Iowa, Catholic Charities, Embarc and other groups will be at the State Capitol on Wednesday to educate legislators about the resettlement of refugees. We are encouraging lawmakers to approve the expansion of an existing Americorps program helping refugees integrate in the state. Refugees are present in the U.S. legally after an extensive vetting process.

And finally, the four diocesan bishops of Iowa were at the State Capitol last Tuesday for our annual Legislative Breakfast. The bishops and members of our board and committees had an opportunity to speak with many legislators as they stopped by on their way to the chambers. The bishops also met with the governor and legislative leaders to discuss several issues, including immigration, education, assisted suicide and trafficking in fetal tissue. Go to our Facebook page to check out some photos of the event. You can also follow us on Twitter @iacatholicconf to keep up with the latest.