March 16, 2012

General Assembly passes legislation to curb human trafficking, assist low-income families

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

March 9 marked the close of another session of the Indiana General Assembly, and with the adjournment came mixed results.

Legislation to curb human trafficking, assist low-income families with home energy, and improve access to the scholarship tax credit were among the legislative accomplishments supported by the Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC) that passed this year. Yet, measures to address chemical abortion and expand school choice for current non-public school families failed.

“I’m pleased with the actions taken by the Indiana General Assembly to address the issue of human trafficking,” said Glenn Tebbe, ICC executive director. “The Church supports clarifying the law, and making it easier to convict people who commit the crime of human trafficking.”

In early January, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller began pushing for the General Assembly to act quickly to put more limits on the crime of human trafficking, especially with the Super Bowl scheduled in Indianapolis.

“Human trafficking is a problem that has been ignored until recently,” Zoeller said. “It’s one that’s growing, I think, primarily fueled by the same energy that brings drugs to the United States.”

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that 10,000 prostitutes were brought to the 2010 Super Bowl in Miami.

Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, who co-authored the legislation with Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport, said he did so to clear up ambiguities within Indiana’s current human trafficking statutes.

“Experts agree [that] human trafficking is a grim epidemic worldwide, and is certainly prevalent in the United States,” Walker said. “In fact, roughly 4 million people fall victim to human trafficking every year. What’s more, Indiana recently received a ‘D grade’ for its related laws. This is simply unacceptable.”

Under Senate Bill 4, the newly passed legislation, it is illegal for any person to arrange for another person to participate in any forced sex act.

Prior to Senate Bill 4, Indiana law only prohibited forced marriage and prostitution. The bill also makes it easier to prosecute for human trafficking because the burden of proof is not on the prosecutor to show coercion as it was prior to the passage of Senate Bill 4.

A measure to help low- to moderate-income families receive assistance for home energy costs also passed.

House Bill 1141, authored by Rep. Peggy Welch, D-Bloomington, provides additional assistance to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). It restores the sales tax exemption for energy consumption paid for through federal assistance. The legislation will utilize all federal funds for the purpose for which they were granted instead of taking 7 percent in sales tax. The sales tax exemption will be extended to 2020.

“Again, the Church applauds the efforts of lawmakers who passed the home heating legislation, which will assist low-income families struggling with home energy costs,” Tebbe said.

There were some disappointments in the legislature this year, he said, including the fact that chemical abortion legislation and school choice expansion for current non-public school families did not become law.

“The right-to-work issue not only dominated the early part of the year, but because of the heated controversy in the House, it contributed to the failure of passing other controversial issues, including putting limits on chemical abortion,” Tebbe said.

Senate Bill 72, authored by Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, was an attempt to prohibit “telemed” abortions by requiring the doctor to do a physical exam before and after prescribing RU 486.

In some states, prescriptions for RU 486 are provided by doctors via a computer screen from a remote location. The bill also limited to physicians only who could prescribe RU 486. While the bill passed the Senate 36-0, it did not receive a hearing in the House.

“While I am disappointed the chemical abortion legislation did not move in the House, there was a lot of good testimony and discussion about the issue,” Tebbe said. “It raised awareness that chemical abortions happen in Indiana and cannot be taken lightly. Awareness and education are the first steps toward getting effective informed consent legislation passed.

“I expect informed consent for abortion to be revisited next year, and the Church will continue to work toward better informed consent laws and work toward life-affirming legislation.”

Three proposals to expand access to a school choice scholarship voucher for students currently enrolled in a non-public school failed this year.

However, a minor provision to allow a “once in, always in,” to the scholarship tax credit program did pass.

The proposal, Senate Bill 296, authored by Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, will allow non-public school families who qualify for a scholarship tax credit to remain eligible as long as their family meets the income requirements.

“Access to a school choice scholarship for non-public school students will continue to be an effort the Indiana Catholic Conference works toward,” Tebbe said.

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion. For more information about the Indiana Catholic Conference, log on to www.indianacc.org.)

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