January 10, 2014

ICC gears up for legislative work as lawmakers return to state Capitol

An aerial view of the Indiana State Capitol building in Indianapolis.

An aerial view of the Indiana State Capitol building in Indianapolis. (Photo source)

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

A new year brings hope and challenges. This message rings crystal clear for those heading to the state Capitol for the opening of a new legislative session of the Indiana General Assembly.

This includes the return of Republican Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican-controlled House and Senate made up of 150 state lawmakers—100 House members and 50 senators—and the Church’s public policy advocate, the Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC).

“Our goal during this ‘short’ session will be to do no harm,” said Glenn Tebbe, executive director for the ICC, who serves as the official public policy spokesperson for Indiana’s bishops. Tebbe said that to “do no harm” means he will work to stave off attempts to change laws that currently are effective in protecting families and children, while working to support new laws that promote the consistent life ethic and the common good.

“Obviously, the big gorilla in the room in terms of issues this coming session will be the marriage amendment,” said Tebbe. “The Church’s teaching is clear that we support traditional marriage between one man and one woman, and have a long history in the public square of supporting traditional marriage. We will continue that effort.” The Indiana bishops issued a statement on marriage on Dec. 4, and it can be found at www.indianacc.org.

“Our overall goal this year, as is every year, is to promote a consistent life ethic,” said Tebbe. The consistent life ethic teaches that all human life from conception to natural death has dignity and deserves respect and protection.

“It is out of this moral framework that the Catholic Church speaks to all issues,” said Tebbe. “The Indiana Catholic Conference will be working to protect families and children—and all underlying necessities to support families and children.”

The ICC will be engaged in promoting and improving education policies and programs; safeguarding parents and educational institutions’ rights and responsibilities; protecting religious liberty regarding marriage and health care; protecting programs that support vulnerable families and individuals; and ensuring new programs or initiatives protect parent rights and responsibilities and enhance family life.

According to Tebbe, the ICC will work with state lawmakers to require parental notification for minors to use Plan B abortion-inducing drugs; improve access to early childhood education; improve childcare regulations; work to bridge the health insurance gap under the Affordable Care Act for Medicaid and lower-income families; and work toward passing legislation to improve Indiana adoption laws.

“There will be many issues on the table, and we will be taking part in the process to ensure that the voice of the Church and the least among us are heard,” Tebbe said.

Tebbe said that in years past, the success of the ICC’s legislative agenda is impacted in part by: 1) the willingness of the leadership in the House and Senate to have these bills heard in committee; 2) a willingness of lawmakers to work in unison with the Church’s efforts; and 3) a willingness of Catholics in the pew to be engaged in the political process.

To better equip Catholics to participate in the process, the ICC offers an online resource that provides efficient and effective communication with members of the Indiana General Assembly and the U.S. Congress. A Legislative Action Center is available on the ICC Web page at www.indianacc.org that allows visitors to participate in the political process in a number of ways. Visitors to the center can sign up for the weekly I-CAN Update newsletter, identify his or her representatives, contact lawmakers, and much more. To explore the process, go to www.indianacc.org and click on “Legislative Action Center.”

State lawmakers in the Indiana House will be led by Rep. Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis), who serves as Speaker of the House, and in the Senate by Sen. David Long (R-Ft. Wayne), who serves as President Pro Tempore in the Senate.

“These two men wield enormous influence given their leadership roles by serving as gatekeepers on legislation,” said Tebbe. “We will be working with leadership to forward the Church’s initiatives.” Tebbe said that committee chairs also may decide the fate of any given bill even if it meets with approval of the House and Senate leaders.

Republicans hold super majorities in both legislative bodies, meaning they have enough members to conduct and pass legislation without the support of Democrats. Republicans hold a 69 to 31 majority in the Indiana House of Representatives and a 37 to 13 majority in the Senate.

The Indiana General Assembly alternates biennually between a “long” session, or budget session, to a “short” session. This year is a short session.

Tebbe said that lawmakers will work at breakneck speed to meet the shorter working deadlines of this year’s session, which last only 10 weeks. Due to time constraints, the short session renders fewer introduced bills, roughly 1,000 of them.

Tebbe said that far fewer will actually get hearings and move through the process. Lawmakers must complete legislative business by March 14.

(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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