Legislative Session Concludes, May 21, 2021
The legislative session ended this week with resolution on several issues of concern to the Iowa Catholic Conference.
During the last day of the session lawmakers passed HF 847, which includes:
An increased tax credit to 75% for donors to School Tuition Organizations (STOs), which provide scholarships to lower- to middle-income students attending an accredited nonpublic school.
Increases the total STO tax credits available to $20 million (from $15 million) starting next year
Increases the tuition and textbook tax credit from $250 to $500 per-child for private school parents and makes the credit available to homeschool parents
Regrettably, the bill also treats private schools as if they were public schools in a provision forbidding schools from having mask requirements. Aside from the merits, Catholic schools are not creatures of the state. Lawmakers also left the passage of Education Savings Accounts to a future year.
The ICC supported funding increases that assist nonpublic school students, including a step up to $852,000 for textbooks (in HF 868) and an increase to $9 million for transportation services (SF 615).
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take up an abortion case about a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks. However, even if the Court would limit federal constitutional protections for abortion, it wouldn’t make a difference in Iowa because of a decision by the Iowa Supreme Court which made abortion a fundamental right in the state.
That’s why it’s so important that the Iowa Legislature passed HJR 5, the “Protect Life Amendment.” The provision would clarify that Iowa’s Constitution does not contain a right to an abortion. If passed by the Legislature again in 2023 or 2024, the amendment will go to a vote of the people of Iowa.
The Legislature passed a tax reform bill, SF 619, which moves up the timeline for income tax cuts and shifts non-Medicaid mental health funding to the state instead of from county property taxes. The ICC supported a few specific pieces in the bill:
Sales tax exemption for equipment purchased by food banks
Payment parity for counseling centers offering services by telehealth (including Catholic Charities)
Tax credit increase for affordable housing projects and the creation of disaster recovery housing/eviction prevention programs
The Legislature passed HF 302, a long-time priority which phases out the loss of eligibility to families for childcare assistance when the family’s income goes up.
In the human services budget bill, HF 891, the Family Development and Self-Sufficiency (FaDSS) program received a $1 million increase to $4.3 million. The program is home-based and intended to connect families to resources such as housing, food and energy assistance, transportation, counseling, and parent education.
Sometimes it’s about what doesn’t happen. The Legislature decided not to pass a proposed asset test for food stamps, which would have resulted in the loss of eligibility for many people. Legislators didn’t proceed with a plan to implement a one-week waiting period for laid-off people to receive unemployment benefits.
Finally, it’s expected that the General Assembly will return late this summer to pass a plan which redraws Iowa’s legislative districts.
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