March 24, 2006

Indiana Catholic Conference gains
moral ground at Statehouse

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

While Gov. Mitch Daniels’ Major Moves program, property tax reform and deregulating the telecommunications industry captured the headlines, the Indiana Catholic Conference covered a lot of moral ground at the Statehouse this year.

The priority issues that ICC addressed during the 2006 Indiana General Assembly included legislation to limit the death penalty, attempting to curb abortion by improving Indiana’s informed consent, ensuring fair treatment for immigrants and assisting low-income families with heating costs.

“Upholding the dignity of the human person, especially the least among us, is a work all Christians share,” said Indiana Catholic Conference Executive Director Glenn Tebbe. “The Indiana Catholic Conference, as the official representative on public policy matters for the Indiana bishops, has a unique responsibility to do so.

“The Church has consistently upheld the dignity of all life from conception to natural death. It is out of this consistent life ethic that we address legislative issues,” Tebbe said. “This year, we are dovetailing on the U.S. Catholic bishops’ campaign to end the death penalty in Indiana and to raise awareness in the area of immigration reform.”

Two legislative measures aimed at limiting Indiana’s death penalty were introduced, but did not receive a hearing and died. Another death penalty-related measure, Senate Bill 160, extends the right for a representative of the victim’s family to witness the convicted murderer’s execution.

“While we support the rights of victims, and efforts to help victims and all who are affected by violence and crime, we do not see this legislation as providing the means to achieving true healing and peace of mind,” Tebbe said. “The Church opposes legislation which may foster feelings or attitudes of revenge.” Senate Bill 160 passed the Senate 38-11 and the House 82-12.

Rep. Joe Micon (D-West Lafayette), who voted against the measure, said, “I voted against Senate Bill 160 because I am pro-life, which means [supporting life] from the moment of conception to natural death. Senate Bill 160 is really about vengeance, which is the Lord’s alone. I don’t think public policy should be about vengeance.”

ICC also led an effort to defeat a bill restricting public assistance for undocumented immigrants. House Bill 1383 would have restricted access to public services—including schools and hospitals—and charged state police with immigration enforcement. Several from the Catholic community—and those representing health and education groups—testified against the bill. They noted the devastating effects it would have for families and children who are citizens, but whose parents are undocumented residents. The measure also would have had negative consequences for employers and Indiana’s economy. House Bill 1383 was defeated in the House 74-19.

“The floor debate on House Bill 1383 was our chamber’s finest moment,” Micon said. “When Rep. [Mike] Murphy [R-Indianapolis] spoke about Matthew’s Gospel—‘when I was hungry you gave me food, when I was thirsty you gave me drink, and when I was a stranger you welcomed me,’—it truly summed up the debate.

“Our chamber did the right thing from a public policy standpoint, and for me it was all about voting from a moral values perspective,” Micon said. “The Indiana Catholic Conference’s presence was felt on House Bill 1383, and it was primarily through the efforts of Glenn Tebbe and the Catholic network that the vote against the bill was so strong.”

A bill to improve Indiana’s informed consent law died when the conference committee report for House Bill 1172 was not voted on by the Senate. The final version of the bill only dealt with informed consent. The effort to add abortion clinic regulations was dropped.

“The bill was significant, and the effort to defeat it was well-orchestrated,” Tebbe said. “The two provisions that caused the opposition were ‘the fetus might feel pain’ and ‘human physical life begins when a human ovum is fertilized by a human sperm.’ ”

Although the report was approved 7-3 by the Senate Rules Committee late Tuesday, March 14, the bill was not called before time expired at midnight. Even though the House was under the same time constraints, the measure passed 75-23. Since the conference committee report did not pass the Senate, Indiana’s informed consent law remains unchanged.

The one-year state sales tax exemption for persons receiving heating assistance will become law with the governor’s signature on House Bill 1001. Under the bill, all the money set aside for the program will be used to provide heat assistance, rather than 6 percent being used for sales tax.

“The Indiana Catholic Conference and the Indiana Catholic Action Network have had an impact on lawmakers by taking part in the political process,” Tebbe said. “Even though some of the legislation we supported or opposed did not go our way, by taking part in the debate we were able to educate the decision-makers and raise awareness on important moral issues.”

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

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