Budget bills for state departments are being introduced at the Legislature, which is usually a sign that the session is heading into its last month or so.

shutterstock_763683007House Joint Resolution 14, the proposed constitutional amendment that would restore voting rights for people who have committed a felony and completed their sentences, was passed by the House 95-2 and sent to the Senate. Because of the upcoming legislative deadline it’s important for you to contact your Senator right away in support of the bill at https://www.votervoice.net/ICC/campaigns/64864/respond.

PROVISION IN TAX BILL TO INCREASE FUNDS FOR SCHOLARSHIPS

Legislation to adjust Iowa’s tax code was introduced last week by Senate Ways and Means chair Sen. Randy Feenstra (R-Hull). The ICC supports a provision in Senate Study Bill 1249 that contains an increase in the School Tuition Organization tax credits from $13 to $17 million. If enacted, this could help raise as much as $26 million for scholarships for nonpublic school students.

This Tuesday is the annual Education Celebration for nonpublic schools at the Capitol sponsored by Iowa ACE. There will be a big crowd for the noon rally and we will be asking parents to talk with their legislators about their support for nonpublic schools.

The education appropriations bill just introduced, House Study Bill 250, contains status quo funding for textbooks and transportation for nonpublic school students. ICC will be working to increase those numbers and supports a new appropriation of $300,000 to help nonpublic schools pay for the new state assessments given to students.

SENATE PASSES FETAL HOMICIDE LEGISLATION

With the support of the ICC, the Iowa Senate has passed Senate File 523 and sent it over to the House. It is a “fetal homicide” bill, which protects unborn human life in the criminal code in contexts other than abortion or medical procedures. In other words, it deems an unborn baby to actually be a personwhen offenders attack or otherwise harm a pregnant woman. SF 523 completely excludes actions by the pregnant mother from the scope of the legislation.

While studies have shown that domestic abuse and violence against women increases during pregnancy, Iowa is one of only 11 states that does not treat the killing of an unborn child (excluding abortion) as a form of homicide.

The Iowa House has scheduled a hearing on SF 523 for later this morning (Monday).

Unfortunately, another important piece of legislation is apparently being delayed. It does not appear that Senate Joint Resolution 21 will be considered by the Senate this week. This constitutional amendment would correct last year’s Iowa Supreme Court decision finding abortion to be a fundamental right in Iowa.

The good news is passing an amendment next year doesn’t delay final enactment since it has to pass through two separate sessions of the Legislature in any case. This could be in 2020 and 2021. You can find our action alert in support of the amendment at https://votervoice.net/ICC/Campaigns/64678/Respond.

AROUND THE STATE CAPITOL

  • Last week Gov. Reynolds signed Senate File 274, the campus free speech/religious liberty bill. This law clarifies free speech requirements at state universities, including that student groups can choose their own leadership in alignment with their beliefs and mission. It’s too bad a law was needed but that’s where we were.
  • Apparently, Senate File 538, related to additional work reporting requirements for many Medicaid recipients, will not move forward in the House. We’re pleased by this development and see little value in a bill that puts more red tape for recipients and has the effect of putting them off Medicaid. Last week a judge blocked similar laws passed in Arkansas and Kentucky.
  • Legislation to provide “over-the-counter” contraceptives, Senate File 513, has passed the Iowa Senate by a vote of 42-6 and goes to the House. The information we have seen from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) seems to indicate that more birth control efforts do not reduce the number of abortions.
  • The Senate has not brought up the death penalty bill for debate. Hopefully it dies this week, but we should take nothing for granted. The ICC action alert is at https://votervoice.net/ICC/Campaigns/64121/Respond.

FEDERAL ISSUES

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is our nation’s foremost anti-hunger program. Each year SNAP lifts millions of low-income Americans out of food insecurity. On Feb. 1, 2019, the USDA released a proposed rule to increase SNAP work requirements which would limit state flexibilityto adapt to the needs of low-income and working families in some state.

As a result of these changes more than 755,000 individuals across the county could lose SNAP benefits over the next three years. You are encouraged to take a moment to urge the USDA to withdraw or modify the rule so that it protects access to necessary food and nutrition programs. Go to https://www.votervoice.net/USCCB/campaigns/64829/respond.

The USCCB is opposing the Equality Act. The Act would add the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the definition of “sex” in federal civil rights laws. According to the USCCB, the Equality Act retracts religious freedom, endangers privacy, regulates speech, hinders quality health care, and threatens charitable organizations and those whom they serve. The new requirements under HR 5 would touch all federal dollars – from Catholic hospitals, to Catholic charities agencies, to Catholic schools wishing to participate in school lunch programs. The bill also greatly expands the federal definition of public accommodations and explicitly exempts itself from the protections of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Go to https://www.votervoice.net/USCCB/Campaigns/64633/Respond for more information.

There is an action alert from the U.S. bishops’ Justice for Immigrants campaign to encourage the admission of 30,000 refugees this year. JFI is concerned that low admission numbers mean that refugees fleeing persecution are left in harms’ way, that refugee families are left separated across the continents, and that those welcoming refugees lose the cultural and economic benefits that refugees bring to U.S. communities. The alert is at: https://justiceforimmigrants.org/action-alerts/urge-our-government-to-resettle-30000-refugees-in-2019/.