SIOUX CITY, Iowa (CNS) — Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City joined Archbishop Michael O. Jackels of Dubuque and Bishops Martin J. Amos of Davenport and Richard E. Pates of Des Moines in meeting with Iowa lawmakers on issues of interest to the state’s Catholics.
Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, said the meetings with lawmakers were private and while he had no specifics on what was discussed, he outlined several issues he expected had come up.
Among those, he said, are a minimum wage increase, driver’s licenses for immigrants, Education Savings Accounts, wage theft, payday loan reform and legislation to provide an ultrasound before an abortion could be performed.
Chapman said the bishops met with several dozen legislators at a breakfast Feb. 24 and had three private meetings later in the morning, with Gov. Terry Branstad and the state Senate majority leader and House minority leader.
“I know the legislative leaders and the governor appreciate hearing directly from the bishops about their legislative concerns,” he said.
Chapman thought the issue that would garner the most bipartisan support would be assistance for nonpublic school students, particularly in the form of Education Savings Accounts. A House subcommittee was already considering such a bill, he noted, adding he was optimistic it would soon reach the committee level.
An ESA, as it’s called, is an incentive to help parents and students save for education expenses, like Catholic school tuition, and the accounts usually are allowed to grow tax free until the money is withdrawn.
Recently, Iowa’s four bishops issued a statement urging the Iowa Legislature “to enact an ESA program” during the 2015 legislative session.
“This innovative idea would further level the playing field for parents who lack the resources to choose freely their children’s education setting or who are struggling to keep their children in the school of their choice,” the bishops stated.
On Feb. 24, the state Senate approved a measure to raise Iowa’s minimum wage to $8.75 per hour; under the proposal it would go up to $8 an hour July 1 of this year and then to $8.75 an hour July 1, 2016. As of March 10, the House had yet to take up the minimum wage bill.
Bishop Nickless told The Catholic Globe, newspaper of the Sioux City Diocese, that he felt this issue was one the legislators were less receptive to embrace.
“It’s important they (the legislators) understand we are not speaking as economists but rather as pastors who care about the needs of the poor,” he said. “The Legislature needs to do the best it can to help Iowans, especially the middle class and the state’s most needy.”
The bishop continued, “As Pope Francis reminds us, ‘The dignity of each human person and the pursuit of the common good are concerns which ought to shape all economic policies.'”
Iowa’s Democrat-led Senate also approved a bill to protect workers from wage theft, which refers to workers not being paid overtime hours, for example. Passage by the House was uncertain.
Fox is managing editor of The Catholic Globe, newspaper of the Sioux City Diocese.