IMG_2420The Iowa General Assembly concluded its 2016 session on Friday. The last part of the session is almost always focused on budget items. Here are a few notes from the last couple of days of the session:

Unfortunately, the final version of the human services budget bill, HF 2460, still included funding of abortion providers for family planning services. The House attempted to set up a state program for family planning that would not send money to abortion providers, but the Senate did not go along. However, as a part of the final deal between the chambers, the state tax credit for adoptive parents was doubled from $2,500 to $5,000. The ICC supports this increase, as it will be helpful for many parents hoping to adopt a child.

We are very pleased to see $300,000 in RefugeeRISE funding as a part of the human services bill. Alert readers will recall this is something we have been working for all year. The money will help the EMBARC group to pair teams of one native English-speaking person with one refugee to help provide job readiness skills and other resources to refugees in Iowa.

Resettlement agencies such as Catholic Charities and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants 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.

The bill also included compromise language regarding oversight of Medicaid, and $3 million in grants for two regional mental health care areas. The current law regarding property tax levies for mental health services will remain in place for at least another year. Legislators had considered removing a cap.

We are sorry to report there was no action on additional funding for nonpublic students and parents. Current levels were maintained. Thousands sent messages to their legislator on these issues through the combined efforts of ICC, Iowa ACE and the Iowa Association of Christian Schools (IACS). We just never could get the final commitments from leaders in either chamber to allocate additional funding to help nonpublic school parents. Legislators were able to find at least $150 million in new funding for public schools – not bad!

However, HF 2459, the standings appropriations bill, eliminates the July 2020 repeal of provisions that require the state to accept the accreditation of a nonpublic school by one of six accrediting organizations (in addition to state accreditation). The ICC supported this but the real work was done by the Iowa Association of Christian Schools.

The standings bill also includes $200,000 in funding for the new human trafficking office in the Department of Public Safety approved earlier in the session. A $250,000 appropriation for emergency food purchase programs didn’t make the cut.

The final version of the justice budget bill includes “intent” language we were working for requiring several of the corrections districts to retain their drug courts. 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. Catholic Charities assists with these programs in some parts of the state.

The House and Senate passed SF 492 during the last day of work. SF 492 sets up a state-based disaster case management program. We have been working to get this bill through the legislature for more than a year. The bill looked dead on Tuesday but the House majority leader brought it back after Democrats backed off from trying to attach “medical marijuana” amendments on every bill left on the House debated calendar, including SF 492. State-based disaster management services will be available following the governor’s declaration. Catholic Charities is often part of the statewide recovery network that serves in the event of emergency.

AND FINALLY,

Thanks so much for staying in touch with our work. Our cause, as the U.S. bishops’ Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship says, “is the defense of human life and dignity.” Many legislative issues were resolved following your input to legislators. We really appreciate your getting involved and bringing your faith into the public square.