First, I’d like to say a word of welcome to our many new subscribers. We really appreciate your taking action on issues that are important to you!

A bill to set up a pilot program for Education Savings Accounts passed out of subcommittee last week. I know some of you are hearing some inflated figures about how much the bill, HF 2284, would cost the state. As drafted, the cost to the state would be less than a million dollars. In the context of the state’s $5 billion education budget, it’s an affordable way for the state to help some parents choose the most suitable education for their children.

We should find out this week whether HF 2284 will be brought forward in the full House Appropriations Committee. In any case, your message was not wasted. Legislators need to hear from constituents on important issues and you deserve to hear their response. And while we can’t predict the future, we do believe your messages will encourage legislators to help nonpublic school parents in some way.

Please take the time to send a message to your legislators on some important issues of interest: RefugeeRISE, disaster case management, and support of food donation programs.

RefugeeRISE, found in Senate File 2298, would appropriate $350,000 from the state to leverage $650,000 in federal matching dollars. 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. The program is run by EMBARC, a nonprofit group founded by Burmese refugees.

Another bill, Senate File 492, would set up state-based case management services in the event of a disaster. Catholic Charities is one of the faith-based providers that are part of the statewide recovery network that serves in the event of emergency. This service would be available in disasters that may not be widespread enough to be declared as a federal disaster.

SF 492 has already passed the Senate unanimously and we are working for its consideration in the House Appropriations Committee. The sticking point is apparently regarding $100,000 to be made available for training of case managers.

Senate File 2307 would fund food donation programs, including those supported by the Iowa Food Bank Association.

There’s still time to send a message to your legislator on these issues. Go to www.votervoice.net/icc/home or download the VoterVoice app and search for “Iowa Catholic Conference.”

LAST WEEK AT THE CAPITOL

Democratic and Republican legislators released agreed-to “budget targets” totaling about $7.3 billion. This means state department budget bills will start to move through the legislature. Usually those bills contain a variety of proposals of interest to the Iowa Catholic Conference. We’ll keep you posted.

Gov. Branstad signed Senate File 2191, which will establish an anti-human trafficking office in the Department of Public Safety.

There was a subcommittee meeting in the House for HSB 649, a bill to legalize another form of high-interest lending called “flexible credit” lending. The bill would authorize payday loan companies to set up relatively small loans with an annual interest rate of a 288 percent. The Iowa Catholic Conference has registered in opposition to HSB 649 because of the likelihood of keeping borrowers trapped in long-term high-interest debt.

An amendment was discussed during the meeting to make the interest rate 17 percent a month, rather than 24 percent. In other words, for a $1,000 loan the first month’s interest would “only” be $170. The good news is that so far the bill has not passed out of subcommittee.

The House Republican leadership announced a plan to oversee the Medicaid transition, which took effect on April 1. The state turned over management of Medicaid to three companies. The details of the plan – which calls for consumer protection and the monitoring of patient health and financial outcomes – will be included in an upcoming budget bill. The Senate, led by Democrats, has passed its own oversight bill.

In the meantime, those having problems with transitioning to the new Medicaid system can call Iowa Medicaid Member Services at (800) 338-8366.

IOWA RELIGIOUS FREEDOM DAY

You’re invited to the State Capitol on Wednesday, April 20 at 11:30 a.m. for the third annual Religious Freedom Celebration. 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.

AND FINALLY,

The U.S. Catholic bishops are asking for our help regarding an “anti-refugee” bill. Last month, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee approved H.R. 4731, legislation that would roll back protections for refugees seeking admission to the United States, as well as for refugees who have already been admitted to the country. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Justice for Immigrants campaign is asking House leaders not to bring this measure to a vote in the full House of Representatives.

The USCCB strongly supports protection and resettlement of refugees, regardless of which of the five grounds established in U.S. and international law compel them to seek refugee status. However, H.R. 4731 seeks to elevate religious persecution above all other grounds and then seeks to favor particular religions over others for priority consideration.

Click here to contact leaders in the U.S. House.