The next couple of weeks will feature a flurry of activity at the State Capitol as the first legislative “funnel” deadline hits on Feb. 21. Bills must pass out of their first committee by that date in order to be considered for the rest of the year. The deadline does not apply to budget or tax-related bills.
RETURNING THE RIGHT TO VOTE FOR THOSE CONVICTED OF FELONIES
One of the ICC priorities for the legislative session is to pass a constitutional amendment that would return voting rights to those who have been convicted of felonies and discharged their sentence. Iowa is now the only state where it is impossible to get your voting rights restored without an individual act of the governor. The amendment passed the Iowa House last year and we have been encouraging the Senate to pass the amendment as well.
Senate File 2129 has been introduced to address the definition of “discharging a sentence.” The bill requires the completion of confinement, payments of all fees and damages, and the pardon of the governor for any crimes committed under Chapter 707 (homicide, including attempted murder). A subcommittee meeting is scheduled to consider the bill today (Monday).
In our view, returning the right to vote promotes the civic engagement of those re-entering the community. It is a measure of mercy, dignity and justice.
The payment of restitution is also just; however, requiring all repayment before the right to vote would be restored could end up keeping lower-income people from voting.
The ICC would like to see a bill with fewer obstacles to voting move forward.
‘PROTECT LIFE’ AMENDMENT PASSES HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE
House Study Bill 577, the constitutional amendment on abortion, advanced out of a House subcommittee last week and is set to be considered by the full Judiciary Committee.
The “Protect Life Amendment” would clarify that a right to abortion is not guaranteed by the Iowa Constitution. Otherwise, current abortion restrictions are at risk. The Senate’s version of the amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 2001, is eligible for debate on the Senate floor.
BILL CALLS FOR COLLECTION OF INFORMATION ON ‘NONRESIDENT ALIENS’
Postponed from last week, a subcommittee meeting is scheduled to consider Senate File 579, a bill revived from last year which would collect information on citations and offenses committed by nonresident aliens. This category includes many people who are here legally.
Many law enforcement personnel oppose this kind of law because it can interfere in community relations with diverse populations. Tracking minor infractions and criminal offenses of a small population is not helpful in assessing public safety concerns and other local priorities.
ICC opposes this bill because it implies that people are bad actors because they’re not from the United States. The data this bill requires offers hardly any useful information for the state. Since many people don’t carry proof of their citizenship, we believe this would be difficult to implement in a way that avoids racial profiling.
ADDRESSING THE ‘CLIFF EFFECT’
Another bill ICC is paying attention to this week is House File 2203, which would establish a graduated eligibility phase-out for state child care assistance. This addresses an issue we’ve been talking about for a long time, the “cliff effect.” This is when a person gets a pay raise or a new job, starts making more money, and loses all of their child care assistance, resulting in a net loss of income. The proposal extends the eligibility for those families receiving child care assistance along with an increasing sliding fee scale for payments from the family.
RELIGIOUS LIBERTY BILL TO BE CONSIDERED
A Senate subcommittee is scheduled this week to consider a bill the ICC has long supported, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Almost all of Iowa’s organized business groups are aligned against the bill.
Senate File 508 provides that government should not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion unless it can be demonstrated that applying that burden is a compelling government interest and the least restrictive means of furthering that interest. This bill provides a standard of review for the court when there’s a conflict between the First Amendment’s protection of free exercise of religion and another law.
For example, we are particularly concerned about Iowa’s current law which allows persons to refuse to participate in an abortion. How will that law be interpreted in light of the Iowa Supreme Court’s finding that abortion is now a fundamental right? RFRA could help.
Twenty-one states have a very similar law and 10 states have a similar provision due to court action.
You can also mark your calendar for Monday, April 13, to celebrate religious freedom for all at the State Capitol from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm. Last week Governor Kim Reynolds signed a proclamation to designate April 13 as Iowa Religious Freedom Day. You can see a picture of the ceremony on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/iowacatholicconference.
SUPPORT THE ‘GLOBAL CHILD THRIVE ACT”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services support the Global Child Thrive Act (H.R. 4864), which would improve international programs focused on children by adding Early Childhood Development activities into programs.
Please send a message to your member of the U.S. House to help the bill get prioritized and actually taken up for a vote. Your action can help children living in poverty reach their God-given potential.
New videos are now available from the U.S. bishops on prayer and action for faithful citizens. The videos complement Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the bishops’ teaching document for the faithful on the political responsibility of Catholics, and they seek to help the faithful participate in public life, prioritize faith over partisan politics, engage with civility, and respond to pressing issues of our day. The videos are available in four languages (English, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese). Go to www.faithfulcitizenship.org to check them out.