We are pleased to report the First Step Act has passed the Senate and House and is headed to President Trump for his signature. Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa was a key leader in getting the bill passed. The goal of the Act is to point the prison system towards programming that will help prisoners succeed once they leave prison and address unjust sentencing laws. The Church supports a criminal justice system that both does justice and is capable of restoring offenders to society. Thanks to those of you who contacted our Senators in support of the bill.

At press time, Congress and the president are fighting over a continuing resolution to keep the government funded. The president is apparently insisting on funding for a border wall. The bishops’ Justice for Immigrants campaign does not support funding for “unchecked and inhumane immigration enforcement measures.”

The president signed the 2018 Farm Bill today. According to Catholic Rural Life, the 2018 Farm Bill protects domestic and international nutrition programs, maintains crop insurance and commodity subsidies for farmers, especially those who are struggling, while strengthening support for rural communities and employment training programs.

However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has released proposed rules to more strictly enforce work requirements on food stamps. We’ll keep you updated.

Thank you for your messages asking Congress to repeal the “parking lot tax.” A recent change to the Internal Revenue Code in Section 512(a)(7) threatens to tax nonprofit organizations — including houses of worship — for the cost of parking and transit benefits provided to their employees. In another piece of good news, the Administration is providing some relief by allowing employers, including many non-profits, to retroactively reduce their nondeductible parking expenses. However, full relief is still needed from Congress.

USING BABY BODY PARTS FROM ABORTIONS FOR RESEARCH ‘DEEPLY DISTURBING’

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), recently defended current NIH research that uses the body parts of babies destroyed by elective abortions and said that fetal tissue research “will continue to be the mainstay.”

Greg Schleppenbach, Associate Director of the U.S. Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, responded with the following statement: “Dr. Collins’ comments are deeply disturbing. Research using fetal tissue from aborted babies is unethical and should not continue under his leadership … Researchers have demonstrated the ability to both pursue excellence in research and to avoid violating the rights and dignity of nascent human beings.”

AND FINALLY,

The Iowa General Assembly is set to convene on Jan. 14. Early next month we’ll send you our annual preview of the session. In the meantime, have a blessed Advent and wonderful Christmas season!

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