The Iowa legislative session ended Saturday morning at 7:15 a.m. after pulling an all-nighter. Here are a few updates from the past week:
The Senate passed Senate File 471 and sent it to the governor. The bill prohibits abortion after 20 weeks post-fertilization with exceptions to save the life of the mother or for a serious physical health emergency. The bill also contains a three-day waiting period before an abortion. We have been working on this bill since 2011 and it is the first limitation on abortion passed in Iowa for many years.
The legislature approved the $1.7 billion human services budget bill, House File 653. As with the other departmental budget bills, it contains some substantive cuts in spending. One example is a cut in field operations for the Department of Human Services. It also cuts reimbursement to hospitals for difficult cases.
One relative small example is a $100,000 (one-third) cut in the RefugeeRISE program. We worked in support of the creation of the program just last year. RefugeeRISE helps to build job and leadership skills for people who are relatively newly-arrived to the U.S.
HF 653 continues a $3.3 million family planning program that’s available at no cost to people making less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level. However a new rule will not allow for reimbursement of abortion providers. We have also been working on this provision for several sessions.
Also of interest was the last bill of the session, the “standings” bill (Senate File 516), which limits standing appropriations required by Iowa Code. Despite lobbying efforts and emails from parents, the legislature followed through on a relatively small cut in funding of transportation of students to nonpublic schools. The legislature budgeted $8.56 million for this service in the current year. There was a mid-year cut of $278,000. An additional cut was approved in the FY 2018 budget for a final number of $8.2 million. If the item was fully funded it would cost $10.6 million.
The money is spent by public school districts to reimburse schools or parents for the cost of transporting students to nonpublic schools. Students who attend Catholic schools save the state millions of dollars because their parents and parishes cover the great majority of the cost of their education. Nonpublic schools and parents are entitled to the same consideration as their public counterparts when funding commitments are made.
The education appropriations bill (House File 642) contained status quo funding of about $650,000 for textbooks purchased by public school districts for the use of nonpublic school students.
The ICC has supported a sustainable funding stream for Iowa’s regional mental health care system. We were pleased to see Senate File 504 pass the legislature. The bill provides for the equalization of county property tax levies for mental health and intellectual/development disability services within 14 regions. It doesn’t get rid of the statewide funding cap but the bill will allow for more funding in some regions of the state.
Unfortunately there was no action taken to increase the state’s minimum wage. Amendments to raise the wage were filed by Sen. David Johnson (I-Ocheyedan) but none passed.
House File 573 passed the legislature last Friday. The bill gives public school districts more authority over their operations. A last-minute amendment was attached to make clear that districts do not have the power to adopt or enforce a “policy that would unreasonably interfere with the duties and responsibilities of a local, state, or federal law enforcement agency.” We suspect this has to do with the sanctuary city issue.
Thanks so much for staying in touch with our work. Our cause, as the U.S. bishops’ Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship document 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.
We’ll be working on our comprehensive review of the 2017 Iowa legislative session and let you know when it’s available.