May 1, 2015

ICC reports successes for 2015 session of General Assembly

A view of the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. (File photo by Natalie Hoefer)

A view of the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. (File photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

The Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC), the Indiana bishops’ advocacy organization for public policy matters in Indiana, worked to promote a consistent life ethic and the common good during the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly, which adjourned during the final week of April.

Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the ICC, said his efforts of bringing the Church’s teaching of the consistent life ethic and the common good to the Statehouse took “many forms” this year.

According to Tebbe, the consistent life ethic encompasses a comprehensive pro-life message which touches on a wide range of issues.

“The consistent life ethic reaches the whole person, from conception to natural death—and all the stages in between,” Tebbe said. “Within this consistent life ethic, the ICC works to forward it through the legislative channels.”

The ICC marked dozens of bills as priorities. The following are some of the ICC’s legislative successes:

Legislation to allow growth in availability for school choice scholarship opportunities passed in the state budget bill, House Bill 1001. The school choice expansion allows more students from lower-to moderate-income families the choice to attend a public or private school of the parents’ choice. Tebbe said the expansion came in the form of an increase in the threshold for the scholarship tax credit program, which allows donors who give to privately funded scholarships through a Scholarship Granting Organization to receive a tax credit.

The ICC supported the original version of the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA.) Tebbe said, “Unfortunately, the debate became so factually distorted that the intent of the legislation became lost in the controversy of whether it was discriminatory or not.

“The purpose and intent of the original religious freedom legislation from legal scholars’ perspective, and in its application, is to allow people of faith and their institutions, like Catholic hospitals or schools for example, to be able to carry out the Church’s mission,” he said. “This right, or freedom of religion, is not just the freedom to worship God, but to be able to exercise this faith beyond the church walls in the public square. Religious freedom allows people of faith to engage in active ministry and outreach, without the government forcing it to act in ways contrary to matters of conscience, doctrine or mission. That is the essence of the original religious freedom legislation.”

According to Tebbe, due to misperceptions about RFRA, lawmakers were compelled to amend it to demonstrate that discrimination would not take place. “While discrimination was neither the intent nor the legal application of existing RFRA’s across the country for 20 years,” Tebbe said, “it is still unclear if the new RFRA language, which Indiana lawmakers adopted, will provide religious liberty in its application or practice as it relates to the free exercise of religion.

“Unlike the original RFRA language, the new RFRA language has not been tested or applied,” Tebbe continued. “While the ICC is supportive of the principle of religious freedom, it is unclear at this point if Indiana’s new law will accomplish its intended goal.”

The ICC supported legislation to protect the unborn and those in infancy. Legislation passed to expand Indiana’s safe haven law. The newborn incubator bill, House Bill 1016, aims to help reduce infant mortality by expanding the safe haven law through creating a baby drop box for mothers to surrender their unwanted babies, rather than abandoning them in unsafe conditions.

Lawmakers also passed House Bill 1093, which create resources through the Indiana Department of Health for parents who receive a preborn diagnosis of a disabled child, thus providing parents needed information and support systems to carry the child to term rather than aborting the child.

Preborn infants will benefit from legislation dubbed the safety pin bill, House Bill 1004, which passed. The bill helps provide funding for better prenatal care for low-income families. The RU 486 clarification bill, Senate Bill 546, which passed, allows for regulation of the drug to take place after it was held up in court last year. The human egg transfer bill, Senate Bill 208, which aimed to expand the use of human eggs from out-of-state entities, was opposed by the ICC and was defeated.

In the area of death and dying, the ICC opposed two bills which would have allowed human remains to be dissolved through the alkaline hydrolysis process after death.

Tebbe said, “The ICC opposed the bills because the process of dissolving the body and having it run down into the sewer system was not deemed a respectful way to dispose of a human being.” The bill was defeated.

The aborted fetal remains bill also passed. The legislation, Senate Bill 329, recognized the right of a woman who has an abortion to direct the final disposal, including a proper burial of the remains of her aborted fetus.

While the ICC supported a bill to ban the death penalty, the bill did not get a hearing this year and died.

The ICC also supported a bill to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to help families. While provisions of the EITC passed in the House, agreement could not be made during the conference committee phase and the legislation died. Tebbe said he expects a version of the EITC to return again next year and will continue to work toward its passage.

To view the details of legislative action and bill summaries in the final days of the Indiana General Assembly, log on to www.indianacc.org.
 

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

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