By Tom Chapman
For The Catholic Messenger
The Iowa House Education Committee passed a bill last week to provide additional spending flexibility for community-based preschools, such as Catholic schools, that participate in the state-funded preschool program. The bill, House File 156, also includes transportation funding provisions to assist public schools. HF 156 is now eligible to be debated on the House floor.
The first subcommittee meeting was held last Thursday for Senate File 107, which would open a “window” to file a lawsuit to all claims of sexual abuse, even if previously time-barred, for a period of three years. Iowa’s current law allows for victims to file a lawsuit against perpetrators and institutions for four years after they discover the injury caused by sexual abuse. This can be many years later.
The Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) opposes changing the statute of limitations retroactively. Another subcommittee meeting on the bill is expected.
The ICC participated in two subcommittee meetings for House Study Bill 94, which would regulate debit “pay cards.” Payment of employees by debit cards is fairly new and state law has not caught up to this practice. Some employees have found it difficult and more costly to check a balance and compare hours worked to pay. The ICC believes the state should help assure that people are paid what they’re due (already state law), and can easily access the money they’ve been paid.
Introduced last week, SF 144 would fund a refugee family support pilot program at about $2.2 million over three years. The grants would fund organizations to train refugee community navigators to educate and provide direct assistance to their respective refugee communities. Another section of the bill would increase funding for a program to improve learning, literacy, cultural competencies and integration among refugees.
Refugees are present in the U.S. legally. Every year the President authorizes the admission of a certain number of refugees into the country, about 70,000 this year. Each refugee undergoes an extensive security clearance process. Catholic organizations resettle about 30 percent of the refugees who enter our country. Here in Iowa, Catholic Charities resettles about 200-300 refugees each year. Other organizations provide resettlement services as well.
The U.S. government provides transitional assistance only for the first 90 days. This leaves many Iowa communities with an influx of refugees who are in great need of help.
Supportive legislators are meeting with advocates, especially law enforcement personnel, in an effort to build a greater base of support.
Other bills of interest:
SF 146 would require the state to conduct outreach, public awareness and training programs for state agencies and the public to recognize and report incidents of human trafficking. Feb. 8 was the first International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking. It was the feast day of Sudanese slave St. Josephine Bakhita who, after being freed, became a Canossian Sister and was canonized in 2000. Millions of people are trafficked every year, including some in our own Iowa communities.
Under HF 141, FIP (Family Investment Program — welfare) recipients would be required to pay for a drug test. Those who test positive for drugs would lose eligibility for benefits and could not re-apply for a year. Dependent children could still receive assistance.
It is challenging to develop a policy that helps the needy without enabling the dependence of those who should support themselves. However, Iowa should not have a policy that requires the abandonment of those who can’t help themselves, or would be able to help themselves with a little more patience and help. As a practical matter, the ICC is concerned that some parents would be discouraged from applying at all and end up hurting their children.
HF 142 would reduce the application fee from $35 to $5 for a license to marry based upon the completion of premarital counseling. The ICC is looking at this bill as a positive way to support stronger marriages. HF 142 was filed this week and the outlook is unclear at the moment.
You can search for information on all of these bills and their sponsors on the General Assembly’s website, www.legis.iowa.gov.
(Tom Chapman is executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.)