By Tom Chapman
For The Catholic Messenger
DES MOINES — Legislation pertaining to nonpublic schools, moms, church freedom and a flat tax were among the bills that survived the Iowa Legislature’s first “funnel” deadline. The bills were required to pass out of a committee by Feb. 18 to remain eligible for further consideration. Budget and tax bills have no deadline, however.
The governor’s bills to provide Students First (Education Savings Account) scholarships for some parents to send their children to any nonpublic school survived the deadline. Senate Study Bill 3080 passed the Senate Education Committee. The Speaker referred House Study Bill 672 to the House Appropriations Committee. The latest Iowa-specific polling shows 77% of Iowa school parents support the creation of a universal Education Savings Account program. Gov. Reynolds held a news conference about the Students First plan at St. Theresa School in Des Moines on Feb. 15.
The governor also signed a bill setting state public school funding at $3.58 billion next year, an increase of 2.5%. Teachers (including those in Catholic schools), police officers and corrections officers, and childcare workers will begin to receive $1,000 pandemic bonuses. The bonuses will be for teachers who stayed on the job through the pandemic and continue teaching next school year.
Support Iowa MOMS
Senate Study Bill 3145, the “Iowa MOMS” bill (More Options for Maternal Support) bill, passed the Senate Human Resources Committee. “Iowa MOMS” would provide $2 million for groups that have a commitment to promoting healthy pregnancies and childbirth, instead of abortion.
Among the services:
• Nutritional services and education.
• Housing, education, and employment assistance during pregnancy and up to one year following a birth.
• Adoption education, planning, and services.
• Child care assistance if necessary for a pregnant woman to receive pregnancy support services.
• Parenting education and support.
• Material items.
The bill would also provide $3.1 million for a year of continuous postpartum coverage under the Medicaid program for mothers. This is a welcome increase from two months. This proposal might become especially important in a state like Iowa that has a fundamental right to abortion. On Feb. 23, the Iowa Supreme Court was scheduled to hear arguments on a challenge to Iowa’s law that required a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion can take place. The Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) is hopeful that the Court will uphold the law and reverse its 2018 decision that made abortion a fundamental right in Iowa. Meanwhile, a bill to extend the “safe haven” law for newborns from 30 to 60 days, House File 2420, passed the House Human Resources Committee. Unfortunately, a bill to provide more transparency regarding abortion complications didn’t make it past the deadline.
On Feb. 28, the U.S. Senate is set to vote on a motion to begin debate on H.R. 3755, the so-called Women’s Health Protection Act of 2021. It is the most extreme pro-abortion bill our nation has ever seen. This bill would impose abortion on demand nationwide at any stage of pregnancy through federal statute and would eliminate pro-life laws at every level of government. Keep an eye on the U.S. bishops’ Action Center (usccb.org).
The “Church Freedom” bill, Senate File 2284, which passed the Senate Local Government Committee, allows for religious freedom as far as possible but restricts it when the government has an important interest that must be preserved. A similar bill, House File 2437, passed the House Judiciary Committee.
Iowa flat tax
The Iowa House passed its version of the “4% income flat tax” and sent it to the Senate. The governor’s proposal also cuts the corporate tax rate to 5.5%. The Senate GOP plan would cut it to about 8% and eliminate about $140 million worth of business tax breaks. Learn more about the proposals on our website (iowacatholicconference.org).
We are monitoring a bill to improve the verification systems to receive public assistance. The House Human Resources Committee approved House File 2438, which would require more stringent ongoing verification of recipients’ financial and employment records. Since low-income people’s job hours and income can change often, we are concerned that this might put people “on and off” of benefits and create additional uncertainty for their families. On the bright side, the bill might make for easier application procedures.
A bill to allow “cashless wagering,” House Study Bill 578, which passed the House State Government Committee, would allow a direct connection between your bank account in your phone and the slot machine in casinos. The ICC is concerned about it becoming frictionless for people to lose their money.
House Study Bill 607 did not make it out of committee. The bill would reduce punishments and collateral consequences that come from noncriminal “technical” probation violations (such as missing a meeting). Under the plan, people would not return to prison unless of necessity.
The ICC appreciates that House File 2422 was introduced last week, but it did not make it out of committee. To encourage marriage among single-parent households, the income of a new spouse would be disregarded for two years for the purpose of continuing eligibility for welfare benefits. The idea is that the new family could start some savings.
Several proposals to cut unemployment insurance benefits are still alive, including House File 2279 and Senate Files 2275 and 2249.
Lunch and Learn
Iowa Catholic Conference staff will give a talk at noon on Thursday, March 3 on “Targeted Advocacy” and the ICC’s legislative priorities in the Diocese of Davenport’s Lunch and Learn series. To sign up, go to http://bit.ly/DioDav LunchLearn. Later that day, “The Two Feet of Love in Action” will be live and streaming from the University of Iowa’s Newman Catholic Student Center at 7 p.m. There will be discussion of Catholic Social Teaching, advocacy and discerning your call to act.
(Tom Chapman is executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.)