By Tom Chapman
Iowa Catholic Conference
As Catholics, our cause is the defense of human life and dignity and the protection of the weak and vulnerable … the principles of Catholic social teaching – dignity of the human person, subsidiarity and solidarity, freedom, participation, the common good, and care for the poor and most vulnerable among us – must define our positions on issues and should invite reflection on the best specific response. – Faithful Citizenship for Iowa Catholics, 2016.
The following is the Iowa bishops’ official review of the 2017 legislative session, provided by Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.
A few priorities of the Iowa Catholic Conference became law with Gov. Terry Branstad’s signature:
- The ICC supported Senate File 471, which prohibits abortion after 20 weeks post-fertilization with exceptions to save the life of the mother or for a serious physical health emergency. It is the first limitation on abortion passed in Iowa in many years. The ICC will continue its work to oppose abortion, embryonic stem cell research/cloning, and doctor-prescribed suicide.
- The ICC has supported efforts to create a sustainable funding stream for Iowa’s regional mental health care system and was pleased to see Senate File 504 pass the legislature. The bill provides for the equalization of county property tax levies for mental health and intellectual/development disability services. It allows for more funding for these important health care services in some regions of the state. We support initiatives which would make health care, including mental health care, more readily available and affordable to all Iowans, including immigrants and their children.
- The ICC also supported a provision found in House File 653, the $1.7 billion human services budget bill. HF 653 changes the current Medicaid family planning waiver program to prevent the reimbursement of abortion providers. Unfortunately, as with the other departmental budget bills, HF 653 contained some substantive cuts in spending. A relatively small example is a $100,000 (one-third) cut in the RefugeeRISE program.
We were disappointed the legislature reduced funding for transportation of students to nonpublic schools in Senate File 516. The legislature budgeted $8.56 million in the current year but it was cut to $8.2 million for next year.
There was regrettably no legislative action in support of Education Savings Accounts or School Tuition Organizations to help parents afford the education of their choice for their children. The ICC will continue to advocate for school choice and affordability.
Unfortunately the governor signed legislation, House File 517, removing any “duty to retreat” in the face of any perceived threat and allowing the use of deadly force anywhere, including for the protection of property. Catholic moral teaching recognizes the right to self-defense as a way of preserving one’s life and in defense of others, but we have a moral obligation not to use deadly force unless absolutely necessary. The new law moves farther away from this standard. The ICC will continue to advocate for reasonable gun controls, in defense of innocent human life and the common good.
The ICC will continue to oppose Senate File 481 and work on the issue in the interim. SF 481 requires law enforcement agencies to honor any immigration detainer request from the federal government, even those without a criminal warrant attached. This would be a significant change of practice for many local law enforcement agencies.
We do not believe that an escalation of immigrant detention and intensive use of local enforcement in communities is the way to achieve compassionate and merciful reform of our immigration system. SF 481 has already passed the Iowa Senate and was assigned to the House Public Safety Committee for action next year.
The legislature failed to raise the minimum wage. We hold the opinion that, in the current circumstances, an increase to the minimum legal wage would directly or indirectly benefit more Iowans than not. Therefore, we continue to advocate for an increase.
On the positive side, bills restoring the death penalty and legalizing doctor-prescribed suicide failed to advance. We will continue our work in opposition to these proposals.
Most Rev. Michael Jackels of Dubuque
Most Rev. Martin Amos of Davenport
Most Rev. Walker Nickless of Sioux City
Most Rev. Richard Pates of Des Moines
Tom Chapman is executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.