As attention turns to budget matters at the legislature, we are asking for your help on a bill that would support refugees who have resettled in Iowa. SF 2298 would expand the current “RefugeeRISE” program contingent on an appropriation from the legislature. The Iowa Refugee Alliance is seeking $350,000 from the state to leverage $650,000 in federal matching dollars. The program is run by EMBARC, a nonprofit group founded by Burmese refugees.

The RefugeeRISE program hires Americorps teams to build workforce skills and self-sufficiency in the refugee community by pairing one native English-speaking member with one refugee member to:

  • Increase access for refugees to existing workforce development programs
  • Build skills through culturally and linguistically appropriate workshops
  • Provide direct services in native languages

In partnership with the federal government, resettlement agencies such as Catholic Charities and USCRI provide direct assistance to refugees during the first 90 days following arrival. Other groups such as EMBARC, Lutheran Services in Iowa, and Visiting Nurse Services provide important services after the first 90 days.

Click here to see a sample message to your state senator in support of the bill. Thank you!

Legislative committees were busy this week as lawmakers were pushing bills out to beat today’s second “funnel” deadline. Bills (other than budget or tax) were required to have passed one chamber and through a committee in the opposite chamber to remain eligible this session.

There was positive news regarding items of interest for the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC). The Iowa House passed HF 2329 56-43 on Wednesday. The bill would prohibit the trafficking or use of fetal body parts following an abortion.

Democrats brought an amendment mirroring federal law that would have prohibited profiting from the sale of fetal tissue; however, it would not have stopped the use of such tissue. The amendment failed.

The House did adopt an amendment to allow current fetal cell lines derived from abortions to be used for research. The purpose was to allow the University of Iowa to continue current research on cells derived from an aborted fetus.

As a group of researchers from the University of Wisconsin Medical College wrote last fall, “We do not agree that research using human fetal or embryonic tissue from abortions or procedures such as IVF is ethical or a requisite approach for advancing scientific inquiry or preventing suffering.”

Most of the opposition to bill during debate was based on an “end justifies the means” argument in support of all research. Our position is that use of the fetal tissue in question is unethical because it is obtained as a result of an abortion.

You can click here to check on your legislator’s vote. Voting was generally along party lines with Republicans for and Democrats against. Regrettably, the bill was passed too late for the Senate to take any action before the legislative deadline.

In another piece of good news, the Iowa House failed to bring up HF 2276, an “enforcement-only” immigration bill. That means the bill is dead for the session.

We really can’t thank you enough for the messages that many of you sent to legislators about these bills. Even if you didn’t change your lawmaker’s mind it often affects how they approach the issue. They need to hear from you. It only takes a few messages to get their attention in a positive way.

In other action, HF 2386 passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. ICC supports the bill, which allows the termination of parental rights if a court finds that the child was conceived as a result of sexual abuse and the parent who was abused requests the termination of parental rights. The bill has already passed the House unanimously.

ICC staff was pleased to be present for the signing of SF 2288, which makes most court records of juveniles confidential. This law will help people not carry along the effects of a relatively minor mistake made while a juvenile. This turned out to be a very bipartisan matter with only one “no” vote being cast in the chambers. Check out our Facebook page for a photo of the bill signing.

One of the lesser-known aspects of the ICC’s work is our attention to school policy matters. Catholic schools in Iowa are accredited by the state; therefore, many education policy bills apply to Catholic schools. Among the bills we are monitoring are:

  • HF 2421, CPR training for coaches and a requirement for high schools to have a health care professional present for football games, wrestling and soccer matches
  • HF 2392, related to career and technical education plans
  • SF 2217, adding human trafficking to the definition of child abuse and adding requirements for training of mandatory reporters
  • SF 2296, expanding the state’s preschool program and changing provisions related to community providers

On the negative side of what took place during “funnel week,” the Senate Education Committee failed to take action on HF 2321, which would eliminate the July 2020 repeal date of provisions that require the state to accept the accreditation of a nonpublic school by one of six private accrediting organizations. We were also disappointed that the House Public Safety Committee did not take up SF 2269. The bill would have required the state’s public safety advisory board to make recommendations about violence causation and prevention in the state.

One of our key priorities remaining at the legislature is additional support for Catholic school parents. If this issue develops like it usually does we’ll be busy on working on it up to the end of the legislative session.

It appears that Democratic and Republican lawmakers have reached an agreement on federal tax coupling and a dispute over rules related to the sales and use tax. This agreement will help clarify how much money will be available for the state’s budget and probably help resolve the ongoing struggle over public school funding. It also makes it more likely for the General Assembly to adjourn closer to April 19, when legislators’ per diem expenses run out.

At the federal level, immigration guidelines permitting deferral of the deportations of millions of people provide “substantial humanitarian benefits” and should be permitted to stand, said an amicus curiae brief, filed March 8 in the U.S. Supreme Court by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and 24 other U.S. faith-based organizations whose work includes advocating for or providing aid and resources to recent immigrants and their families.

The case is United States v. Texas, in which some states have challenged the federal government’s implementation of immigration guidelines issued by the Secretary of Homeland Security. The guidelines effectively stay the deportation proceedings of 4-5 million undocumented people who pose no national security or public safety threat and who have longstanding close family ties to people in the United States.

These guidelines, the brief said, provide “important benefits to those most vulnerable in our society and to those who serve them” and also ensure “that the public will continue to benefit from the substantial contributions of recent immigrants.”

AND FINALLY,

The public is invited to the third annual Religious Freedom Celebration to be held at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, April 20 at the State Capitol. The nonpartisan event, called “Strengthening Families, Citizens, and Communities in a Pluralistic Society,” will celebrate the positive role faith communities play in a diverse society when religious freedom is protected for all. Des Moines Bishop Richard Pates will be one of the speakers and a group from Dowling Catholic High School will perform.

The Iowa congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the ICC are the primary co-sponsors of the event. For more information, visit www.iowareligiousfreedomday.org.