Iowa Catholic Conference Newsletter, Jan. 24, 2021

Governor Reynolds has introduced her education reform proposal, and a Senate subcommittee is set to consider the bill later today (Monday). Among the provisions are:

  • “Students First” scholarships (similar to Education Savings Accounts) that students in public school buildings considered to be in need of comprehensive support could use to transfer to a nonpublic school.

  • An increase in the tuition and textbook tax credit. The tax credit is available to both public and nonpublic school families. Most private school families would see an increase from $250 currently to $1,000 per child.

  • Establishment of charter schools

  • Makes it easier for public school students to switch districts

It is important to look at this bill first from the perspective of parents and students, not institutions. We must focus on the students and the best ways to help some of them. We appreciate the governor’s Students First scholarship proposal as a starting point to help some parents choose the educational option that best fits their child’s unique needs.


We would like to see it expanded to help some of our current students in Catholic schools who have been as affected by the pandemic as anyone else, rather than tying a scholarship to a particular residential area. Parents have the primary responsibility for educating their children, so we believe parents have a right, in justice, to access some of their tax dollars to help them exercise that duty.


RETURN OF THE DEATH PENALTY?

The Senate Judiciary Committee may consider a bill this week which would bring back the death penalty to Iowa. Senate Study Bill 1004 would reinstate the death penalty in Iowa for murder in the first-degree involving kidnapping and sexual abuse offenses against the same victim who is a minor. The Iowa Legislature abolished the death penalty in 1965.


Click here for a statement from the Iowa bishops opposing the death penalty. They said, “We know there is a special need to offer sympathy and support for the victims of violent crime and their families. However, we oppose reinstatement of the death penalty in order to send the message that the cycle of violence can be broken without taking life.”

A good step right now would be to contact your legislator and express your opposition.


LAST WEEK’S ACTION AT THE STATE CAPITOL

All legislative committee meetings are being livestreamed. The schedule is at https://www.legis.iowa.gov/committees/meetings.


The proposal to make the right to keep and bear arms a fundamental right in Iowa’s Constitution, HJR 4, has passed the House Public Safety Committee. Many states have the federal Second Amendment repeated in their state constitution in some way. Iowa doesn’t. The main problem with HJR 4 from the perspective of the bishops is it goes farther than the federal Second Amendment by making that right to keep and bear arms subject to “strict scrutiny,” which means it is very difficult for the state to regulate.


The proposal to amend Iowa’s Constitution clarifying that it does not contain a fundamental right to abortion (HJR 5) passed the House Judiciary Committee last week. We are hopeful that HJR 5 will reach the floor for debate soon. The Senate version has been introduced as well.


Some other positive pieces of legislation passed their first subcommittee tests last week, including bills requiring businesses to treat adoptive parents the same as birth parents, as well as offering reasonable accommodations to employees based on pregnancy or childbirth.


Another bill advanced which would establish a graduated eligibility phase-out for state child care assistance. This legislation would help prepare the family for the time when hopefully they will move off of an assistance program.


COVID-19 VACCINE ROLL-OUT

Gov. Reynolds said that the state will expand COVID vaccine availability as of Feb. 1. She said that supplies remain limited but that the state would establish a tiered system for the vaccine rollout.


Tier 1 includes law enforcement, first responders and pre-kindergarten and K-12 staff and teachers. Tier 2 will include essential workers in food, agriculture and manufacturing who work in settings where social distancing is difficult, and persons with disabilities. Tier 3 will include staff and individuals in congregate living and staff at the Capitol. Tier 4 includes health and safety inspectors. Tier 5 includes prison and jail staff and inmates.


PRESIDENT BIDEN TAKES OFFICE

President Biden was inaugurated Wednesday and has issued several executive orders. Click here for reactions from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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