The Iowa General Assembly finished its 2023 session last week as lawmakers passed an $8.5 billion budget. Most of the spending goes towards K-12 education. The Legislature also completed work on a $100 million property tax cut.
The budget bill for the Department of Health and Human Services spends more than $2 billion. The ICC was pleased that the final version, Senate File 561, included $1 million for the Iowa MOMS (More Options for Maternal Support) program. This is an increase of $500,000 from last year. MOMS will provide services to pregnant women and families with infants through non-profit pregnancy resource centers.
Both chambers voted down an amendment supported by the ICC which would have extended post-partum health care coverage for mothers on Medicaid from the current two months to a year.
Because the Students First/Education Savings Account program was passed earlier in the session, legislators cut the usual $852,000 allocated for purchase of textbooks for nonpublic school students. The Legislature continued the funding of transportation services for nonpublic school students at $8.9 million. An amendment to defund the Students First program failed by a 34-59 vote in the House.
The final version of House File 430 is being sent to the governor. The bill prohibits schools from entering into employment agreements that would prevent discussion of abuse incidents by former staff with potential employers. The bill also grants immunity to school authorities for such discussions. The ICC has worked on this bill for years in different forms so it’s good to get it over the finish line.
The Senate and House passed the final version of Senate File 542, adding to the work activities and hours available to those under age 18. The House added an amendment which requires sexual harassment training for 16 and 17-year-olds who will be allowed with parental permission to serve alcohol in restaurants. Any harassment incidents involving a juvenile will be reported to the parents and the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. The amendment also narrowed the ability of the state to grant exceptions in workplace learning programs.
U.S. bishops oppose immigration bill
WASHINGTON – As the U.S. House of Representatives prepares to vote on H.R. 2, the Secure the Border Act of 2023, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration, sent a letter urging members of Congress to oppose the bill and “to support the drafting of bipartisan legislation that is more in keeping with our nation’s rich tradition of welcome.”
Bishop Seitz expressed concern that the bill would fundamentally weaken the decades-long commitment to humanitarian protection that the United States has demonstrated. He cited provisions that “would endanger unaccompanied children and inflict harm on other vulnerable persons, decimate access to asylum, mandate damaging detention and removal practices, restrict access to legal employment, limit—and potentially eliminate—federal partnerships with faith-based and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), undermine the rule of law, and more.”
“We do not question the good intentions of lawmakers who seek to enact legislation that would secure our nation’s borders. Indeed, we join in the call to enact effective and humane border management as part of a framework of comprehensive immigration reforms,” he wrote before adding, moreover, that the bishops “do not discount the challenges at our border with Mexico, nor the right of nations to maintain their borders.”
“However,” Bishop Seitz continued, quoting Pope John Paul II, “our faith also compels us to be ‘vigilant advocate[s], defending against any unjust restriction [on] the natural right of individual persons to move freely within their own nation and from one nation to another’ and to call attention ‘to the rights of migrants and their families and to respect for their human dignity, even in cases of non-legal immigration.’”
While acknowledging that there may be several provisions within H.R. 2 that members support, Bishop Seitz stated that “passage, on the whole, is beyond justification” because of the harmful measures it contains.
The letter describes many of those provisions in detail and may be read in its entirety.