January 16, 2015

ICC to engage lawmakers at state Capitol in 2015

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, has returned to the Indiana State House to be a voice for the common good of all Hoosiers and a wide range of consistent ethic of life issues.

Jan. 6 marked the opening day of the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly as 150 state lawmakers began their legislative business for the year. The legislators have only one absolute goal—they must pass a two-year budget by the April 29 adjournment deadline. Many other issues will be addressed in the House and Senate. Republicans hold a supermajority in both bodies.

Glenn Tebbe, ICC executive director, who serves as the chief lobbyist and spokesperson for the Catholic Church in Indiana, recently discussed what’s ahead for the 2015 legislative session.

The ICC has targeted several issues this year as priorities. Topping the list includes support for legislation granting conscience protection and religious freedom.

“Conscience and religious freedom legislation aims to allow Hoosiers the freedom to follow their conscience or religious beliefs as it relates to issues that violate a person’s moral beliefs,” said Tebbe.

The ICC will also work on several issues to further protect the unborn.

“Following last year’s legislative success providing the option for burials of a miscarried child’s remains, there will be an effort to address how remains from abortions are treated,” Tebbe said. “Also, in the aftermath of a lawsuit which struck down limiting distribution of the abortion-inducing drug RU 486, the ICC will work to clarify the law to regulate the drug.”

The ICC will also support other pro-life bills, including a new proposal to help abandoned infants, and legislation to ban the death penalty.

Protecting parental rights to choose the educational setting for their children remains a priority for the ICC. Efforts will be made by the conference to enhance opportunities for families to have educational choice for children. Tebbe said that legislation supported by the ICC would increase the state’s support for choice via the scholarship tax credit program, also known as the voucher system.

“Working to improve access to quality early childhood education programs will also be a priority this year,” Tebbe said.

Social justice concerns that the ICC supports this year include efforts to assist moderate- to lower-income families by expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and seeking increased support for pregnant mothers and their infants.

According to Tebbe, charitable gaming laws and an expansion of the gaming industry as a whole are expected to be addressed this year, which may have an impact on how nonprofits and churches engage in festivals or church raffles. The ICC will be engaged in the legislative discussion on these changes.

Currently, legislation to legalize euthanasia has not surfaced in Indiana this year, yet other states have legalized it. As national lobbying efforts to impose legalized euthanasia in Indiana occur, the ICC will oppose this effort and any bills that pave the way for it.

Lawmakers must draft and file bills with the assistance of the Legislative Services Agency, a non-partisan staff of state attorneys, to ensure proper language.

Once a bill is filed, it is assigned to a committee. Tebbe explained that only about a third of the bills filed each year receive a hearing, and still fewer pass. Bills can originate in the House or the Senate, and must pass both houses to become law. Under Indiana law, the governor’s signature is not necessary for a bill to become a law. However, the governor does have veto power.

Tebbe expects about 2,000 bills to be filed this year.

“The ICC monitors over a 100 of those bills, maybe more, and we will take a position on as many as 30 of them, providing written and oral testimony on various issues,” he said. “A lot of times, whether legislation addresses education, hospitals and health care, family life and children, or delivering services to the poor, the Church has been intimately involved in these endeavors for centuries.

“We try to serve as a resource from both a secular, research perspective and from a sacred, Scriptural perspective to assist lawmakers as they discern how to best meet the needs of all Hoosiers,” added Tebbe. “Sometimes they listen, sometimes they don’t, but what is important is the Church has a moral obligation to offer our resources to benefit the common good of all people in Indiana.”

When bills are filed, they receive a bill number, and the details are made available to the public. As the ICC tracks bills, it posts legislative updates on its web page. To receive legislative updates via e-mail, join the Indiana Catholic Action Network (ICAN). These and other public policy resources are available at www.indianacc.org.

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

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