Almost all other work stopped at the state capitol last week as debate focused on a bill to limit collective bargaining rights for public sector union members (HF 291). The bill passed both chambers on Thursday and was signed by the governor on Friday. In light of the legislature’s debate on the issue, the Iowa Catholic Conference again released its statement on “Labor and the Common Good” issued in 2011.

The Iowa Catholic Conference’s annual legislative breakfast was held at the capitol last Tuesday. The bishops had an opportunity to talk with the governor and legislative leaders about the labor bill as well as pro-life issues such as Senate File 2, Education Savings Accounts and an increase in the state’s minimum wage. Check out our Facebook page for some pictures from the event.

The Iowa Catholic Conference supports an increase in the state’s minimum wage, currently set at $7.25. So far, the only legislation moving on this issue would forbid cities and counties from raising the minimum wage on their own. The minimum wage in Iowa has fallen behind other nearby states. Even with relatively minimal inflation, the years since the last increase in 2007 have eroded the value of the wage.

As leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Charities have said, “We write not as economists or labor market experts, but rather as pastors and teachers who every day, in our ministries and churches, see the pain and struggles caused by an economy that simply does not produce enough jobs with just wages. So many of our families find it increasingly difficult to afford basic needs, forcing some to take multiple jobs or, in desperation, even seek out predatory loans.” Almost 70 percent of workers that would be directly affected by a minimum wage increase in Iowa are age 20 or over.

Please contact your Representative and Senator regarding an increase in the state’s minimum wage. Time is short before the first legislative deadline of March 3. Click here for more information and a sample message to your legislators.

Senate File 2 may be addressed in the House Human Resources Committee this week. It sets up a state-funded family planning program, which is intended to duplicate a current federal-state program. The bill passed the Senate on Feb. 2. The main change from current practice is that abortion providers would not be able to receive funding. You can send a message to your House member in support of the bill here.

The ICC is also asking you to contact your House member in opposition to House File 265. Our perspective is that this bill has the potential of making everyday life more difficult for immigrants, who may be here without papers but are productive members of our society. This would likely hurt real families and make a difficult situation worse. In an opinion piece published by the Des Moines Register last week, Polk County Sheriff Bill McCarthy addressed the issue of so-called sanctuary cities and how the county enforces the law:

“The Polk County Sheriff’s Office complies with every lawful initiative of any federal law enforcement agency, including ICE (immigration enforcement). The confusion occurs in two ways. First, it is not a violation of the criminal code to be undocumented or in common parlance, ‘illegal.’ Rather, it is a federal administrative rule violation. Local law enforcement does not, despite what some may think, enforce federal administrative rule violations … The second confusion comes when ICE requests that we routinely hold a person beyond the resolution of the charges they were arrested for. We believe such an action to be illegal and a violation of that person’s rights. While we deeply respect those people who have faced many unbelievable challenges to make a better life for themselves and their families (who would do differently?), we have always told those groups that we represent, first and foremost, a law enforcement agency and we will follow the law.”

Click here for more information on the Church’s teaching on migration and an action alert to contact legislators in opposition to HF 265.

A bill has been introduced (House File 338) to provide for “drug courts” in every judicial district in the state. The ICC supports the bill. 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.

To send a message to your legislator on this and any other issue, go to our Action Center and put in your street address to find your legislator.

FEDERAL ISSUES

Now is the time to contact Congress and advocate for the protection of life and freedom of conscience. The Conscience Protection Act of 2017 (H.R. 644) has been introduced in the House of Representatives and in the Senate (S. 301).

This much-needed legislation will clarify federal law and ensure that those who provide health care and health coverage can continue to do so without being forced by government to help destroy innocent unborn children. Please take a moment to let your representatives in Congress know that we expect them to protect our most cherished liberties. Go here for the alert.

In a letter to the U.S. Secretary of State last week, the chairmen of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development and Committee on International Justice and Peace, along with the president of Catholic Relief Services, urged the Administration to do everything they can to care for creation both domestically and globally.

Building upon Pope Francis’s encyclical “Laudato si’,” the letter emphasizes the importance of adaptation policies and specifically calls for continued U.S. support of the Paris climate agreement as well as the Green Climate Fund, which provides poorer nations with resources to adapt to and mitigate changing climate realities.

The full text of the letter can be found here.

AND FINALLY,

We encourage you to take a look at the Lenten reflection booklet, “Caring for Our Common Home.” Based on “Laudato si’,” the booklet has a different reflection and action step for each day during Lent. It was written collaboratively by Jacqueline Comito and Ann Staudt, with assistance from Jamie Benning, Susie Tierney and ICC staff. Copies of the booklet are still available for $4.75 each by emailing tom@iowacatholicconference.org or by downloading it for free.