January 16, 2009

Catholic Conference brings pro-family agenda to statehouse

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

A new year brings hope and challenges, especially for those heading back to the state Capitol, including a re-energized Gov. Mitch Daniels, a new group of 150 state lawmakers, 33 of whom are Catholic, and the ever-present Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC).

Each has goals they wish to accomplish, yet together, the 150 members of the Indiana General Assembly at the very least must pass a new biennium state budget by the April 29 adjournment deadline, and it must be approved by the governor before July 1 when it goes into effect.

The ICC has a different goal to accomplish—to protect families and children—and all underlying necessities to support families and children.

This pro-life, pro-family agenda has taken many forms in the 40-plus years that the ICC has been at work, including efforts to ban embryonic stem-cell research and encourage adult stem-cell research in Indiana; reduce abortions; provide basic needs of the poor, disabled and elderly; limit and abolish the death penalty; improve immigration laws; and protect the institution of marriage.

As in years past, the success of the ICC’s legislative agenda this year will also be determined 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 Catholic 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.

Rep. Patrick Bauer (D-South Bend), a practicing Catholic, was re-elected speaker of the House.

Sen. David Long (R-Fort Wayne) was re-elected president pro tempore in the Senate.

Given their leadership roles as gatekeepers on legislation, these two legislators wield enormous influence. Committee chairs also may decide the fate of any given bill even if it meets with the approval of House and Senate leaders.

Out of the 150 members of the Indiana General Assembly, 33 are Catholic. Ten are state senators, including Sen. Richard Young (D-Miltown), Sen. Frank Mrvan (D-Hammond), Sen. Sue Landske (R-Cedar Lake), Sen. John Broden (D-South Bend), Sen. Joseph Zakas (R-Granger), Sen. Thomas Wyss (R-Fort Wayne), Sen. Ed Charbonneau (D-Valparaiso), Sen. Timothy Skinner (D-Terre Haute), Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) and Sen. Robert Deig (D-Mount Vernon).

Twenty-three are members of the Indiana House of Representatives, including Rep. Bauer (D-South Bend), Rep. David Niezgodski (D-South Bend), Rep. Ryan Dvorak (D-South Bend), Rep. Scott Pelath

(D-Michigan City), Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon (D-Munster), Rep. Chester Dobis (D-Merrillville), Rep. Donald Lehe (R-Brookston), Rep. Thomas Dermody (R-LaPorte), Rep. Jeb Bardon (D-Indianapolis), Rep. Sheila Klinker (D-Lafayette), Rep. Timothy Neese (R-Elkhart), Rep. Mark Messmer (R-Jasper), Rep. Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis), Rep. Philip Pflum (D-Milton), Rep. Robert Bischoff (D-Greendale), Rep. Paul Robertson (D-DePauw), Rep. Suzanne Crouch

(R-Evansville), Rep. Nancy Dembowski (D-Knox), Rep. Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne), Rep. Matt Bell (R-Avilla), Rep. Michael Murphy (R-Indianapolis), Rep. Phil Hinkle (R-Indianapolis) and Rep. John Day (D-Indianapolis).

There are 25 new faces who were elected last November, 17 in the House and eight in the Senate. Three of the new faces are Catholic legislators: Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg), a member of St. Louis Parish in Batesville; Rep. Mark Messmer (R-Jasper), a member of Holy Family Parish in Jasper; and Rep. Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis), a member of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Indianapolis.

Democrats maintain a narrow 52-48 majority in the Indiana House of Representatives. Republicans hold a 33-17 majority in the state Senate.

“Much of the legislative work done by the Indiana Catholic Conference this year will be overshadowed by the budget-making process,” said Glenn Tebbe, ICC executive director. “And because of the decreasing tax revenue available, agreeing on budget priorities will be difficult. Local government reform and property tax caps will be the other overriding issues.”

To better equip Catholics to participate in the process, the ICC invested in a new online system 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 do much more. To explore this new means of political engagement, log on to www.indianacc.org and click “Legislative Action Center.”

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

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