By Tom Chapman
For The Catholic Messenger
DES MOINES — A proposed amendment to make Iowa’s state Constitution “abortion-neutral,” Senate Joint Resolution 9, passed a Senate subcommittee last week. This past summer, the Iowa Supreme Court discovered a fundamental right to an abortion in the state Constitution. Now and in the future, a “strict scrutiny” standard will be applied to any regulation of abortion or efforts to restrict its public funding.
The Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) testified in support of the amendment. Without this change, if or when Roe v. Wade is struck down or federal law is modified; abortion would remain a fundamental right in Iowa. The ICC encourages you to contact your state senator in support, particularly if he or she is a member of the Senate State Government Committee. A version of this amendment was also introduced in the Iowa House last week as House Joint Resolution 5.
Religious liberty bill
The ICC supports a bill to protect the free speech and religious liberty of students on the campuses of Iowa’s public universities. Senate Study Bill 1099 passed a Senate subcommittee last week and is scheduled to be considered by the Senate Education Committee this week. The bill would allow student groups (including religious ones) to choose their leadership in alignment with their belief and conduct standards.
In a related matter, the University of Iowa is being required by a federal court to reinstate the Christian student group BlinC. The university had “deregistered” the group for violations of a human rights policy. The university had also put the Newman Catholic Student Center on an extensive list of student groups to possibly be deregistered for violations of the university’s human rights policy.
Many bills are in play to loosen restrictions on gun ownership or carrying of weapons. The ICC testified last week in opposition to House Joint Resolution 3, which would apply “strict scrutiny” to any restrictions on gun rights. It would make any future regulation difficult and the ICC believes it would put current regulations in peril.
Other bills include Senate File 165, which would eliminate state permits to acquire weapons and allow “permit-less” carry, and Senate File 213, which would bar employers from prohibiting an employee from carrying a gun to work, if the employee has a carry permit and the gun is out of sight and in a locked vehicle.
Legalized sports betting
The ICC testified at Senate and House subcommittee hearings last week in opposition to several bills to legalize sports betting. One of the bills would allow the state lottery to participate; another would make the casinos the license owner, and another, the horsemen’s association. Many groups are scrambling to get a piece of the pie. The bills would allow betting on sports contests by smartphone app.
The state Department of Health has said that about 13 percent of Iowans — 294,000 — have reported a problem with their gambling. That number was very small before the state lottery and the casinos were legalized. It may become much bigger.
Tuition tax credits
The ICC continues to meet with legislators about the importance of a substantial increase in the School Tuition Organization tax credits, currently set at $13 million annually. This program helps private schools raise money for scholarships for lower-income students.
Meanwhile the Legislature is working quickly to establish an increase in public school funding this year. The proposals would increase basic state aid by 2.06 percent, as well as provide more equity in transportation and other costs per pupil, for a total of an $89.3 million increase for K-12 schools. In Iowa, more than $7 billion is spent on K-12 education — more than $14,600 per student when all sources of funding are considered (federal, state, local property taxes).
Other bills of interest:
ICC supports House File 87, which would provide tax credits for donors to nonprofit developers of affordable housing.
ICC supports House Concurrent Resolution 8, which recognizes the public health hazard of pornography.
ICC opposes a bill to legalize assisted suicide, Senate File 175. We do not expect the bill to move but we’ll keep you posted.
The U.S. Supreme Court temporarily blocked Louisiana from implementing a law requiring doctors at abortion facilities to obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals. Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said the fact that abortionists and their facilities “cannot or will not meet basic health standards exposes the lie of their clever slogan that abortion is health care.”
Ahead of the U.S. Senate’s consideration of nominees for the federal judiciary in the coming weeks, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, chairman of the USCCB Committee for Religious Liberty, sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee asking senators not to impose a religious test for public office.
In reaction to the announcement of the U.S. government’s intention to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, the Archbishop Timothy Broglio, Archbishop for the Military Services, USA and chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on International Justice and Peace, said the treaty has served for more than 30 years to reduce nuclear arsenals between the U.S. and Russia significantly.
To keep current on legislative issues, visit the ICC website at iowacatholicconference.org.
(Tom Chapman is executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, the official public policy voice of the bishops of Iowa.)