March 4, 2005

Legislation that would
protect parishes advances

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

The Indiana Catholic Conference’s primary legislative efforts promote a consistent life ethic, but sometimes the ICC works to protect the Church when certain legislation could create an undue hardship on parish life. The ICC has focused on several bills to protect the Church during this session of the Indiana General Assembly.

A bill to prevent civil suits brought against Church volunteers has passed the Indiana House of Representatives by a 94-0 vote.

House Bill 1126 gives volunteers and volunteer directors of non-profit organizations, including Catholic parishes and schools, immunity from civil liability, provided they use reasonable care in performing their duties. The measure expands and clarifies current law. However, the measure does not apply to health care providers.

The bill now moves to the Senate for further consideration.

Senate Bill 132 issimilar to House Bill 1126 in that its goal is to reduce civil suits against the Church. The bill clarifies the obligations of religious organizations and provides some protection for places of worship from civil suits. The limitations are restricted to worship areas and do not include schools or other Church facilities.

The bill passed the Senate judiciary committee and is now eligible for passage by the full Senate.

The ICC has opposed House Bill 1614, which would allow government entities to charge a fee or tax Churches, hospitals or schools through property taxes to pay for public safety protection such as fire and police. Currently in Indiana, non-profit organizations such as Churches, hospitals and Catholic schools, among other service organizations, are exempt from property taxes.

“If enacted, this bill would have had a significant negative impact on our schools, Churches and hospitals,” said ICC executive director Glenn Tebbe. The bill died in committee.

House Bill 1056 exempts certain nonprofit groups, including parishes, from having to use certified food handlers for activities when food is sold. Without this legislation, every time a parish held an event, festival or activity where food was being sold, the parish would have to hire certified food handlers, for example, a food catering company to serve food or be subject to certain fines or penalties.

The bill passed the House by a 95-0 vote and now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Senate Bill 140, which clarifies and maintains current charity gaming laws, passed the Senate. The bill includes supplies and other costs in determining net proceeds which are used for charity purposes and eliminates the requirement that a minimum percentage be generated from gaming activities.

Tebbe said the Indiana Department of Revenue recently issued regulations which would set specific dollar amounts for profits causing difficulty for smaller charitable gaming groups. “These set dollar amounts would have forced some smaller non-profit groups, including some parishes, to shut down their charitable gaming operations,” Tebbe said.

“Senate Bill 140 was needed to correct this hardship and will ease the restrictive and unworkable rules set forth by the Indiana Department of Revenue,” he said. “The bill provides a better way of determining net proceeds and maintains the requirement that proceeds be used for charity.”

The bill passed the Senate by a 43-6 vote. The bill now awaits action in the House.

To learn the positions of the Church on a particular bill, issue or public policy matter, check out the Indiana Catholic Conference’s web page for policy statements and position papers at

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion.)

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