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April 30, 2017

At the Statehouse: ICC sees successes in 2017 legislative efforts

By Brigid Curtis Ayer (For The Catholic Moment)

INDIANAPOLIS — Each session of the Indiana General Assembly offers opportunities to promote the consistent life ethic and further the common good, says Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference.

In 2017, several legislative initiatives to further these goals in the form of pro-life legislation, education policy and support for low-income children and families proved successful, he said.

The 2017 legislative session of the Indiana General Assembly adjourned April 21.

It’s been the work of the ICC to communicate to lawmakers the value and dignity of the human person from conception until natural death, Tebbe said.

Among this year’s efforts at the Statehouse, the ICC worked in cooperation with the Indiana State Medical Association to halt a proposal to legalize physician-assisted suicide in Indiana.

National groups, including Compassion & Choices and Death with Dignity, actively worked to legalize physician-assisted suicide and continue to lobby state lawmakers. Members of the Indiana House and Senate introduced bills which would have allowed a person with a terminal illness to request a lethal dose of medication from his or her attending physician.

“I am grateful that the physician-assisted suicide proposals failed to get a hearing this year,” Tebbe said. “We need to stand up for the inherent dignity and respect due each person, especially the most vulnerable. We oppose efforts to legalize physician-assisted suicide.”

• Sen. James Merritt, R-Indianapolis, authored a proposed death penalty ban for those suffering from mental illness.

The ICC supported the proposal, but Merritt’s bill stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee and failed to advance.

Tebbe said he was disappointed the bill failed, but bipartisan support for such legislation exists, as well as a general consensus that persons suffering with mental illness should not be put to death.

Tebbe said the proposal failed because the bill’s language was too broad.

The Senate did pass Senate Resolution 64, authored by Sen. Joe Zakas, R- Granger, to have the topic assigned to a study committee after session, which Tebbe said is a positive sign for the future.

• Lawmakers did adopt a bill strengthening parental rights when minors seek an abortion.

Senate Bill 404, supported by the ICC and authored by Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, added verification of parental identity to parental notification for minors seeking an abortion.

The provision was added to Indiana’s informed consent law. It also gives parents of a minor who obtains an abortion without parental permission the ability to collect damages against a person who either posed as the parent or aided the parent’s minor child in obtaining an abortion. The bill also increases the age of reporting child sex abuse from under age 14 to under age 16.

• The ICC also supported successful legislation which called for improvement in abandoned infant protection by placing “baby boxes” at hospitals or hospital-affiliated locations.

Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, authored the bill, which improves upon Indiana’s Safe Haven Law by allowing parents to relinquish their child anonymously at a newborn incubator device, also called a “baby box,” at designated locations. The change involved allowing new devices to be placed only at hospitals or hospital-affiliated locations for safety reasons.

In the area of education, two proposals supported by the ICC passed, including an expansion of pre-kindergarten and school prayer.

• The pre-kindergarten expansion, House Bill 1004, authored by Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, builds upon the state’s On My Way Pre-K pilot program.

The program, which now serves income-eligible 4-year-olds in five counties, will expand to up to 20 counties. A key component of the expansion includes a voucher component, which will allow pre-kindergarten students to enter kindergarten using a voucher to remain in the school system where they attended preschool.

Without the provision, income-eligible students attending a pre-kindergarten program which also has a non-public K-8 school attached to it, would have been forced to leave to attend kindergarten in a public school first if they wanted to use a voucher.

Tebbe said the new voucher provision provides a seamless transition for children to remain in the same school setting.

• A bill to protect students’ religious liberty also was supported by the ICC and passed.

House Bill 1024, authored by Rep. John Bartlett, D-Indianapolis, will allow students to express religious beliefs at school or in class assignments.

Tebbe said the legislation codifies case law which has developed over the past few decades.

Bartlett said, “It is giving Hoosiers the ability to express their faith without fearing discrimination.”

Efforts by the ICC to assist low-income families and children also were successful this year.

• Senate Bill 154, authored by Merritt, increases the amount of assets a low-income person may retain while continuing to receive food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Raising the asset limit helps low-income persons by encouraging financial success and self-sufficiency while meeting their current needs for food, Tebbe said.

Under the legislation, recipients of SNAP benefits will not be penalized for building up a small savings amount; instead, the higher limit helps them have a reserve for emergencies.

• A payday lending bill deemed harmful to low- income persons was defeated in part due to efforts made by the ICC and other advocates for those in need.

The proposal, Senate Bill 245, authored by Holdman, would have expanded short- term loan amounts, allowing persons to borrow larger amounts, at an annual percentage rate of 216 percent.

Tebbe said the ICC opposed the short-term loan expansion due to concerns that it would trap more lower-income persons in debt and a process of recycling high-interest loans.

While the Indiana General Assembly completed its legislative business April 21, the Indiana Catholic Conference continues to work with public policy officials as laws are implemented, and interim study committees begin examining issues for potential legislation in 2018.


To view a more detailed update on this year’s bills, visit the Web site at www.indianacc.org.

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