Budget bills are moving at the State Capitol and legislators are aiming to finish the session by the end of the week.

House File 2460 is the appropriations bill for health and human services. It has been approved by the House Appropriations Committee and is scheduled to be debated on the floor of the House as soon as tomorrow. The bill spends nearly $2 billion from the state’s general fund for important health and human services programs, such as Medicaid and the state’s safety net for low-income people.

We believe that the needs of the poor and vulnerable, including the unborn, should be given special consideration during the budget process. (Click here for a nonpartisan analysis of the bill.) Among the items of interest in HF 2460:

  • The bill sets up a $3 million state-funded program for family planning for the purpose of stopping any government funds from going to abortion providers. While the ICC does not necessarily support the funding of all the family planning services offered through the state’s Medicaid program, we believe that public funds should not subsidize the abortion business when there are many other health care providers available. Abortion clinics do not provide a wide continuum of medical care. The bill also continues the State of Iowa’s policy of not paying for abortions with Medicaid funds.
  • Medicaid is the government health insurance plan that serves about 560,000 lower-income Iowans. Earlier this month the state transitioned to a “managed care” system for Medicaid in an attempt to promote accountability of providers for health outcomes as well as hold down the rate of increase in Medicaid costs. HF 2460 includes a new oversight regime for the Medicaid program with a focus on “patient health outcomes, contract management, and financial sustainability.” The ICC encourages the legislature to ensure that low-income people get the health care they need.
  • The bill also includes $3 million in grants for two areas to help shore up their mental health funding – Polk County and the Eastern Iowa Mental Health and Disability Services Region. This comes in the context of a discussion to lift a cap on the local property tax used for mental health services.

The Iowa Senate will most likely put forward its own version of a human services budget this week with a somewhat different mix of priorities.

There are a few pieces of disappointing news on the educational budget front for nonpublic school students.

  • There’s been no movement in the House Appropriations Committee on the pilot program for Education Savings Accounts, House File 2284. That being said, there’s still time to send a message to your legislator as things can change quickly at the Capitol.
  • Democrats and Republicans have agreed to the education appropriations budget. Unfortunately, it does not include Gov. Branstad’s proposed increase in funding for textbooks/technology for nonpublic school students.
  • Funding for the transportation of students to nonpublic schools continues to be capped at about $8.6 million. That only pays for about 80 percent of claims. The original purpose of the funding was to make sure students get to school safely.

It’s always tough to balance the budget – but in the context of increases for some parts of the education budget, we are working to convince legislators to keep an eye out for nonpublic school parents as well.

House Study Bill 649 passed out of subcommittee last week. It legalizes another form of high-interest lending called “flexible credit” lending by allowing companies to set up relatively small loans with an annual interest rate of a 288 percent. The Iowa Catholic Conference opposes the bill because of its possible impact on poor or vulnerable people who might not be able to keep up with the excessive interest rate on the loans. The bill is currently in the House Ways and Means Committee.

Keep an eye on our Action Center at www.votervoice.net/icc/home for any last-minute action alerts regarding legislation.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM DAY

Thanks to Gov. Branstad for signing the Religious Freedom Day proclamation last week. Go to our Facebook page and check out a photo of the event.

You’re invited to the Capitol this Wednesday, April 20 for a celebration of religious freedom. The Religious Freedom Day event begins with some food at 11:30 a.m. and the program begins at noon. A vocal group from Dowling Catholic High School is scheduled to perform.

Speakers include Bishop Richard Pates of the Diocese of Des Moines, Dr. Jeffrey Campbell, LDS leader in Ames, and Dr. Rizwan Shah, a Muslim physician in Des Moines. Sen. Jake Chapman (R-Adel) and Rep. Dan Kelley (D-Newton) will also say a few words.

This is a non-partisan event. We support religious freedom and how it benefits all of us for religious groups to serve in charitable ways.