March 9, 2007

Pro-family agenda advances in Indiana General Assembly

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

After two months of steady legislative action, a portion of the Indiana Catholic Conference’s (ICC) pro-family agenda continues to advance as the Indiana General Assembly reaches the halfway point.

“We have reached the first benchmark of the session, commonly referred to as ‘crossover,’ ” said Glenn Tebbe, ICC executive director. “In the coming weeks, bills that passed the opposite chamber will be considered by the other body.

“For example, bills that passed the Senate will ‘cross over’ to the House for consideration. Bills that passed the House will ‘cross over’ and go to the Senate for consideration,” Tebbe said. “There is no guarantee that if a bill passed one house that it will pass the other. Committee chairs still decide which bill is heard and can move through the process. Several bills supported by ICC did make the cut, and could be considered and passed.”

Bills designed to help immigrants, poor families and marriages are moving forward and gaining momentum for the final two-month stretch before the April 29 adjournment deadline.

Two immigrant reform measures—both authored by Catholic lawmakers—have cleared the first major hurdle in the process.

Senate Bill 445, authored by Sen. John Broden

(D-South Bend) and co-authored by Sen. Joe Zakas

(R-Granger), passed the Senate 47-0. This bill protects immigrants from legal services fraud by making it illegal for notary publics to advertise as if they were legal advisers.

Senate Bill 445 would punish a person who knowingly or intentionally implies the person is an attorney using the word “notario.”

Currently, an individual who is a notary public may advertise in Spanish as a “notario publico,” which in Spanish refers to a highly trained attorney.

Under Senate Bill 445, the penalty for such actions could be a maximum fine of $5,000 or up to one year in jail. Rep. David L. Niezgodski (D-South Bend) is the House sponsor of the bill, and Rep. Mike Murphy

(R-Indianapolis) is the House co-sponsor.

The other immigrant reform measure, Senate Bill 463, authored by Sen. Tom Wyss (R-Fort Wayne), helps temporary legal residents gain a driver’s license.

The Real ID Act of 2005, a federal law aimed at providing better national security, requires anyone obtaining a driver’s license to provide a Social Security number. However, immigrants who are in the United States legally with temporary visas for employment are not issued Social Security numbers and, therefore, cannot be issued a driver’s license.

Senate Bill 463, which passed in the Senate by a

47-2 vote, would allow Indiana’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) to issue a one-year driver’s license to a temporary legal immigrant who does not have a Social Security number.

Before an Indiana driver’s license would be granted, the applicant would have to verify ineligibility for a Social Security number and his or her lawful status in the United States.

Rep. Vern Tincher

(D-Terre Haute) is the House sponsor of the bill.

Three bills to help poor families have also passed the first chamber.

An affordable housing bill, House Bill 1351, passed in the Indiana House by a 62-36 vote.

Under the bill, affordable housing funds would be paid for by a mix of permanent funding sources, including new fees from the county recorder’s office, a portion of the interest from other state funds and an adjustment in large retailers’ sales tax collection discount.

Current law does not provide a permanent funding source for affordable housing. Sen. Broden will be the Senate sponsor of House Bill 1351.

Another measure to help poor families is the earned income tax credit bill. House Bill 1074, authored by Rep. John Day (D-Indianapolis), provides an increase in the credit on earned income of low-income families. The bill passed the Indiana House by an 83-17 vote. Sen. Vaneta Becker (R-Evansville) is the Senate sponsor of the bill.

House Bill 1167, the child and dependant care tax credit bill, passed in the House 77-16. The bill, authored by Rep. Joe Micon (D-West Lafayette), provides a refundable income tax credit of up to 50 percent of the federal tax credit to working families earning less than $45,000 per year. Sen. Ron Alting (R-Lafayette) is the Senate sponsor of the bill.

A measure to amend the Indiana Constitution to protect the sanctity of marriage, Senate Joint Resolution 7, passed in the Senate 39-10.

The resolution, which would ban same-sex marriages in Indiana and prohibit courts from conferring marriage benefits on other couples or groups, now goes to the House for passage. It must pass in the House in exactly the same form for the amendment to be eligible for a vote by Indiana residents in the 2008 election.

Once on the ballot, if Senate Joint Resolution 7 is passed by a majority of voters, the amendment would become part of the Indiana Constitution.

The amendment defines marriage in Indiana consisting only of the union of one man and one woman. It provides that Indiana law may not be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents of marriage be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups. Rep. Eric Turner (R-Marion) is the House sponsor of Senate Joint Resolution 7. Rep. Scott Pelath (D-Michigan City) is the House co-sponsor.

The Indiana Catholic Conference has been tracking more than 100 bills this session.

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

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