COMING UP THIS WEEK

A subcommittee meeting is scheduled for early this afternoon (Monday) for House File 2284, a bill that would create a pilot Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) program. The establishment of ESAs is one of our priorities for the legislative session.

Education Savings Accounts would empower parents to choose the most suitable education for their children, regardless of income or where they live. HF 2284 would allow some low-income parents to receive $5,854 from the state into a savings account set up for educational expenses. Parents could use that money to pay for tuition at an accredited Catholic or other nonpublic school.

Obviously we’d like to see a bill that would open ESAs to all current public school and private school parents. However, it’s important to get our foot in the door.

We may be sending you an action alert a little later this week encouraging you to send a message to your legislator. Keep an eye on your inbox!

Did you know that one in eight Iowans are considered “food insecure,” meaning they do not have an adequate supply of nutritious and safe food?

Senate File 2307 would address that problem by appropriating a total of $900,000 for food donation programs, including those supported by the Iowa Food Bank Association. Food banks provide donated and purchased food to other nonprofit organizations, such as food pantries, emergency meal sites, church meal sites, and emergency shelters. From a previous state appropriation, nine million meals were provided to hungry Iowans through more than a thousand emergency feeding organizations in all 99 counties. Click here for more information and an action alert.

Other current action alerts include bills to: enhance the RefugeeRISE program, create a state disaster case management program, and offering matching energy efficiency grants for nonprofit organizations.

Later this week, Governor Branstad is expected to sign Senate File 2191, which will establish an anti-human trafficking office in the Department of Public Safety.

LAST WEEK AT THE STATE CAPITOL

We were pleased that Governor Branstad signed House File 2386 last week. The bill allows the termination of parental rights if by clear and convincing evidence, the court finds that a child was conceived as a result of sexual abuse and the parent who was abused requests the termination of parental rights.

The Iowa House Government Oversight Committee passed House File 2450 regarding educational conferences and the state’s “human growth and development” curriculum. Currently public school parents are supposed to receive information annually about the human growth and development curriculum that will be provided to their student, and have an opportunity to “opt-out” of such education. HF 2450 would change that around by requiring schools to ask all parents to “opt-in” and also require the school to annually provide any information that would be presented to pupils at an educational conference for which the school district facilitates pupil attendance.

The bill is a reaction to last year’s Iowa Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth, which was billed as addressing bullying and promoting education on issues important to the gay and lesbian community. There were reports of vulgar language and sexually graphic presentations to students.

At the subcommittee hearing for the bill, ICC staff spoke in support of policies that help parents exercise their right to choose the kind of education best suited to the needs of their children. State law currently recognizes this in one way by having the “opt-out” process.

There was no further news last week on legislation providing additional oversight to the state’s Medicaid program. We suspect we’ll see some language on the subject in a state department appropriations bill.

FEDERAL NEWS

Efforts are continuing to urge the U.S. Congress to enact common-sense protections for pro-life health care workers. The policy of the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act is now found in the Conscience Protection Act of 2016. Please contact your member of the House of Representatives now to urge her or him to co-sponsor H.R. 4828.

Tell your member that you expect him or her to uphold the right of conscientious objection to abortion by enacting this much-needed legislation. The need for federal conscience protection has only grown since 2014, when California started forcing almost all health plans in the state to cover elective abortions, even late-term abortions. This policy has no exemption for moral or religious objections. A mandate for hospitals, even religious ones, to perform abortions may be next.

These actions clearly violate a federal law known as the Weldon Amendment, which forbids state governments receiving federal health care funds to discriminate against those who decline to take part in abortion or abortion coverage. Unfortunately, this amendment has legal weaknesses that make it largely ineffective against such challenges.

In addition, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, chair of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee, has responded to new guidelines issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the abortion drug, RU-486.

“The FDA has irresponsibly loosened its guidelines for the dangerous abortion drug RU-486 expanding its use an additional three weeks into pregnancy, and allowing provision by non-physicians,” he said. “The unofficial, off-label use of RU-486 is now the new normal, paving the way for the destruction of even more innocent lives, and putting women and girls at risk for all the life-changing effects of abortion.”

He concluded with an offer of assistance to women: “Any woman who finds herself pregnant may come to Catholic agencies for non-judgmental, caring assistance. Catholic Charities, pregnancy help centers, and many parishes stand at the ready to assist those in need.”

AND FINALLY,

A new website has been launched for Catholics Confront Global Poverty, a joint initiative of USCCB’s Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development and Catholic Relief Services. More streamlined and visual, the site will help users take action in new ways on three current priority issues: Climate Change, Human Trafficking, and Syrian Refugees. Visit confrontglobalpoverty.org now!