Welcome to our weekly report as the legislature considers the last few bills of the session. There’s still time to contact your legislator by going to our Action Center at www.votervoice.net/icc/home.

On Friday the Iowa Senate passed its version of HF 2460, the human services budget bill. The bill appropriates nearly $2 billion for important human services programs. Among the subjects of interest to the Catholic Conference:

We are pleased the Senate version includes $300,000 of the requested $350,000 for the RefugeeRise program. This has been a priority item for the Iowa Catholic Conference throughout the session.

The Senate’s version keeps the status quo of government family planning funds being made available to abortion providers. The ICC supported a last-minute amendment to “defund” the abortion industry that failed on a tie vote, 25-25.

The Senate bill would send $2.5 million to Polk County and $250,000 each to the Eastern Iowa and East Central Iowa mental health regions. Legislators have been considering a proposal to remove a cap on the current mental health property tax levy. The bill also includes more robust Medicaid oversight language.

The version of HF 2460 passed earlier in the week by the Iowa House set up a $3 million state-funded program for family planning for the purpose of stopping any government funds from going to abortion providers.

It also included a new oversight regime for the Medicaid program with a focus on “patient health outcomes, contract management, and financial sustainability.” The House bill also contained $3 million in grants for two areas to help shore up their mental health funding – Polk County and the Eastern Iowa mental health region.

We anticipate that the human services bill will end up in a conference committee where members from both parties and both chambers will try to come to an agreement. Click here for an alert on the bill.

Thanks in part to your messages, SF 492 passed unanimously out of the House Appropriations Committee. It would set up state-based case management services in the event of a disaster. This service would be available following disasters that may not be widespread enough to be declared as a federal 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.

Now that it’s out of the Appropriations Committee, it’s time to send another email message and encourage your legislator to support the bill. The updated message for your legislator is at https://www.votervoice.net/ICC/campaigns/45350/respond. When/if the bill passes the House it needs to go back to the Senate. There is still a chance to get this done in the next few days!

The Iowa Catholic Conference is disappointed that Gov. Branstad’s recommended increase for textbooks/technology for nonpublic schools students was cut by the legislature in the education appropriations bill, SF 2323. The hard cap of $20 per nonpublic school student was set in 1990. Two generations of K-12 students have come and gone in that time. In our opinion it’s way past time for legislators to assist these students with an increase in funding. Click on votervoice.net/ICC/Campaigns/46011/Respond for an alert.

The “standings” bill, HF 2459, relates to appropriations that are mandated by Iowa law. Since it is typically one of the last bills of the session, it tends to attract amendments containing bills that didn’t pass previously. One such amendment in the Senate version is a $250,000 appropriation for emergency food purchase programs. The ICC supports this provision.

Both House and Senate versions of the bill fail to fix an appropriations level set in last year’s standings bill ($8.6 million) for the transportation of nonpublic school students. The funding level is only about 80 percent of what is needed.

The Senate standings bill also adds a “sunset” provision for Iowa’s public online schools. The sunset provision would remove their right to operate in a few years. We support public schools, including online schools, as a positive choice for some parents and students. The online schools are apparently working well – why create this uncertainty?

The issue of funding drug courts has popped up again. There was a last minute amendment on HF 2468, the justice appropriations bill, to add “intent” language requiring several of the corrections districts to retain their drug courts. This has become an annual discussion in the legislature because some of the districts would prefer to spend their money on other items.

The goal of a drug court is to offer non-violent offenders with addictions an opportunity to change their lives with the help of an intensive treatment and rehabilitation program. The offender can avoid prison time if successful in completing the program. Catholic Charities assists with these programs in some parts of the state.

Ideally the justice system would get a budget that would allow them to more easily operate the drug courts so the additional language requiring the courts would not be necessary. Specialty courts cost more up front but the fiscal studies are clear they are saving the state money.

HF 2468 has been sent back to the House. If you’re interested, the best thing to do right now is send a message to your House member on the issue. The message would be “Please keep the language requiring drug courts in HF 2468.” We anticipate the House will either accept or reject the changes early this week.

We have action alerts on several of these issues up at www.votervoice.net/icc/home. You can also use our website to send a message to your legislator on any issue. The VoterVoice app on your phone is pretty convenient too.

DOERFLINGER TO RETIRE FROM USCCB

Those of us who have been following the Church’s pro-life work for a long time have mixed feelings to hear of the upcoming retirement of Richard Doerflinger after 36 years of service to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Doerflinger serves as the associate director of the Pro-Life Secretariat and has been the intellectual force behind the USCCB’s policy work on the issue for many years. We’re happy for Richard but are so sorry to see him go.

The good news is that our friend Greg Schleppenbach, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, has been named to succeed Doerflinger. Similar mixed feelings – sorry to see our neighbor go, happy to see Greg work for the USCCB.

AND FINALLY,

We have some preliminary resources regarding decision-making for end of life care on our website under the “Supportive Care Iowa” item. Additional resources are being developed.

Check out our Facebook page for event photos and issues updates during the week. Also keep on an eye on your inbox for any last-minute requests for help on particular issues.