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Iowa Politics Roundup: “Religious Conscience Bill” Looks Unlikely to Move Forward PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 11 February 2011 13:59

The sponsor of a bill that contains the Religious Conscience Protection Act, which opponents have dubbed the “Marriage Discrimination Act,” says currently “there is no intent” to move the bill forward in the legislature this year.

More than 50 people packed the Iowa House lobbyist lounge this week, largely opposing the proposed legislation. Rabbis and key players on the issue from the Iowa Catholic Conference, One Iowa, and The Family Leader were all there.

“The substance of the bill is important to some Iowans,” said Representative Richard Anderson (R-Clarinda). “There are issues with the bill. As I said, I have some issues with the bill. We don’t intend to move it forward at this time.”

House Study Bill 50 would have provided an exemption for religious corporations and others from any requirement to solemnize a marriage, treat a marriage as valid, or provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges for purposes related to the solemnization or celebration of a marriage, if doing so would cause the entity to violate sincerely held religious beliefs.

Connie Ryan Terrell, executive director of Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, said the bill creates a path to discrimination, targets minorities, and “crosses a line that should never have been crossed.” She said the bill is simply unnecessary because churches are not currently required to sanction a marriage against their religious beliefs.

The Rabbi David Kaufman of the Temple B’nai Jeshurun said he was shocked by the legislation and said the state needs to treat all citizens of the state equally. “This country was founded on the principle of protecting minority rights,” he said.

Tom Chapman of the Iowa Catholic Conference, a key backer of the bill, said the religious community has concerns about the impact of same-sex marriages on issues such as adoption, school curriculum in Catholic schools, and the licensing of therapists.

“Our interest in this bill is primarily to have a conversation about what same-sex marriage might mean for religious organizations such as Catholic Charities,” Chapman said. “There’s things that have already happened in other parts of the country. In terms of housing, we certainly don’t want to take away housing rights from people.”

Former state Representative Danny Carroll of The Family Leader also voiced support for the legislation. “There is no more basic fundamental freedom than the right of conscience and religion and religious expression,” Carroll said. “For families ... the freedom to conduct their private affairs consistent with their religious convictions is an American tradition that goes back centuries.”

But Alicia Claypool, chair of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, said this legislation would drive a truck into Iowa’s civil-rights law. She compared it to laws that mandated racial segregation in all public facilities, with a supposedly “separate but equal” status for black Americans. “I don’t think we want to go back to the era of Jim Crow laws,” she said.

House Republicans Release Budget Targets, Remain Far Apart from Democrats on Budget

Iowa’s split government became increasingly evident Thursday as House Republicans pushed forward with making state budget cuts and providing tax cuts, while House and Senate Democrats worked to prevent them.

“We have a long road in front of us,” Representative Tyler Olson (D-Cedar Rapids), ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, told “We’re a long, long ways apart.”

House Republicans on Thursday released their plan for a $5.9-billion budget that they said spends $347 million less than the current year’s budget, $386 million below what they expect will be proposed by Senate Democrats, and $162 million below what’s proposed by Governor Terry Branstad.

“This is an honest, transparent budget that is sustainable,” said Representative Scott Raecker (R-Urbandale), chair of the House Appropriations Committee. “This budget will provide for core services in public safety, health and human services, and education in the state of Iowa.”

The GOP budget reflects a general-fund spending reduction of 5.5 percent. It spends 98 percent of anticipated state revenues, rather than the 99 percent allowed by state law. And it provides $383 million in tax relief.

“The two things that House Republicans have committed to Iowans in particular is we would spend less than what comes in,” said House Speaker Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha). “The ongoing revenue for next fiscal year is right at about $6 billion, so this is under that. And the other thing is that we would not balance the budget using one-time money, and this budget does not use one-time money to balance it.”

It is the first time in years that the Iowa House and Senate have not released joint budget targets, despite having joint budget subcommittees with members and chairs from both chambers.

Olson criticized the House Republican budget plan. “House Republicans have the wrong priorities,” he said. “They are spending $383 million on tax breaks for corporations and those who don’t need it instead of keeping 20,000 Iowa kids in preschool and supporting our K-12 schools. The Republican budget relies on budget gimmicks and one-time money to reward corporations while making it harder for Iowans to see where their tax dollars are being spent.”

Olson said Republicans are cutting spending more than 5 percent while the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency has projected that revenues will increase 4 percent. “So Republicans are making a choice,” he said. “They like to say that things just can’t be afforded; we can’t afford preschool. But they’re choosing not to fund preschool as the revenue estimates show.”

House-Senate budget subcommittees will now take the budget targets released Thursday and move forward with their plans on how to spend that money, and where cuts will be made. Budget subcommittees are expected to approve their bills in the various areas of state government by February 24, and spreadsheets reflecting their priorities and cuts will be released sometime earlier that week.

However, it is yet to be seen how the House Republican budget targets released Thursday mesh with the Senate Democratic targets expected to be released next week. Democrats are expected to use the full $6.388 billion allowed by state law under the 99-percent spending limitation, instead of the $5.9 billion set by House Republicans.

Suburban Legislators Expected to Increase After Redistricting

Iowa legislative leaders said they expect that redrawn districts based on 2010 Census data will likely give the Iowa legislature a more suburban feel.

“The legislature is going to become a little bit more urban, but probably also significantly more suburban,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal.

Gronstal said Iowa already has a legislative district with seven counties, and that district will probably get larger based on the new population numbers.

Thursday’s release of U.S. Census Bureau data for Iowa is the starting point for the process of redrawing the boundaries of Iowa’s legislative and congressional districts.

With the data in hand by February 15, the deadline to produce the first maps of the proposed new districts will be April 1, said Ed Cook, the senior legal counsel for the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency (LSA), which will spearhead the process. Cook confirmed Thursday to that he plans to submit the maps to the legislature on March 31.

Iowa will also be moving from five to four congressional districts.