May 8, 2009

Feticide law and poverty commission among legislative successes

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

April 29 marked the close of the regular session of the Indiana General Assembly, but lawmakers’ work is far from over.

Gov. Mitch Daniels is expected to call the legislators to reconvene for a special session in June because they did not agree on a biennial budget by the end of the regular session.

If no budget is agreed upon by July 1, the state will not have an operating budget.

The April 29 adjournment brought success and disappointment for many of the Indiana Catholic Conference’s (ICC) legislative priorities.

Bills to enhance penalties for feticide, create a child poverty commission and adjust charity gaming rules will become law this year, and were legislative successes for the ICC.

Senate Bill 236, authored by Sen. James Merritt (R-Indianapolis), will enhance the penalty for a person who commits murder or attempted murder where an unborn child is involved.

In the case of the 2008 bank teller tragedy in Indianapolis, it would have subjected the offender to an additional term of imprisonment of six to 20 years because unborn twins were lost.

“Many of my constituents are customers of the Huntington Bank and frequent the neighborhood where the hold-up and shooting occurred,” Sen. Merritt said. “Plus, as the father of twins, this story really hit home with me.”

Current law allows murder charges to be filed only if the fetus has reached seven months gestation. The twins carried by bank teller Katherin Shuffield of Indianapolis, who was shot during a robbery, were only five months gestation when they were killed.

Nationwide, 37 states have feticide laws, and 18 of those consider the killing of a fetus at any point in gestation to be murder, Sen. Merritt said.

“It’s time [that] Indiana catches up with the rest of the country on this important issue,” Sen. Merritt said.

Senate Bill 236 defines feticide as the termination of a human pregnancy at any stage of gestation. The bill passed the Senate 40-9, and the House passed the bill 96-0.

Since the bill was amended by the House, the Senate had to vote on or concur with the House amendments. Senate members concurred, and Governor Daniels is expected to sign the bill into law.

Lawmakers also passed a measure to create a commission to conduct an in-depth study of childhood poverty in Indiana. The 23-member panel will be composed of child poverty experts from governmental agencies,

non-profit advocacy groups, faith-based community groups, and area academia from Indiana University, the University of Notre Dame and Purdue University.

Sen. Dennis Kruse, (R-Auburn), author of the proposal which passed the Senate, said that the purpose of the bill is to seek ways to reduce childhood poverty in the state by 50 percent by 2020.

“I think we have an obligation for our generation to do what we can do to reduce childhood poverty,” he said.

Sen. Kruse said that Indiana ranks 30th of the 50 states in childhood poverty and that 20 states have similar commissions.

A bill to adjust a charity gaming regulation also passed this year thanks to the efforts of three Catholic lawmakers—Reps. Mark Messmer (R-Jasper), Matt Bell (R-Avilla) and Sen. Jean Leising

(R-Oldenburg), who authored a proposal to allow festival workers to participate in activities other than the game they are working.

Senate Bill 414 passed the House unanimously on April 15. The bill allows charity gaming workers at festivals to participate in gaming activities. Current charitable gaming law does not allow workers who work for only part of an event to partake in any activities at multi-day or multi-game events like church festivals.

“The bill does nothing to expand gambling in our state,” Rep. Messmer said. “It merely clears up an oversight in existing code that didn’t allow these volunteer workers to take part in gaming activities.”

Though some of the ICC’s legislative priorities passed in the General Assembly, others failed to become law.

Senate Bill 89, a proposal that would require abortion doctors to obtain hospital privileges for better follow-up care for post-abortive women, failed in conference committee when lawmakers were unable to reconcile differences between the House and Senate version of the bill.

Sen. Patricia Miller (R-Indianapolis), author of Senate Bill 89, was “very encouraged that the House passed the bill,” but knew there would be challenges if the bill went to conference committee.

One of the challenges was a proposal to fund breast and cervical cancer screenings offered by Rep. Craig Fry (D-Elkhart), which was passed by the House.

“Senate conferees would not agree to this provision because of the estimated $23 million price tag [of the screenings], and the issue was ruled as not germane to the original bill,” said Glen Tebbe, ICC executive director

When the General Assembly reconvenes in June, ICC officials will work on getting other priorities passed.

“The Indiana Catholic Conference will be actively lobbying for the scholarship tax credit, which was amended into the budget bill, and we hope will be part of the final budget plan,” Tebbe said.

“We have had an overwhelming response from our Indiana Catholic Action Networkers [I-CAN] this year on the scholarship tax credit, and I encourage everyone to continue contacting lawmakers on this issue,” he said. “While the regular session has adjourned, we still have a chance for the scholarship tax credit proposal to be added into the budget.”

The proposal, Senate Bill 528, would offer a 50 percent tax credit incentive to corporations or individuals for donations made to qualified Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGO’s). The SGO’s would then provide grants to lower-income families for school tuition or other school related costs at the public or private school of the parents’ choice.

The tax credit would allow individuals and corporations who contribute to a qualified scholarship program to deduct 50 percent of the amount of that donation from their state tax liability.

Tebbe said that another unresolved issue related to the failed budget is the sales tax exemption for energy assistance.

The effort to extend this program was cut short when House Bill 1081 did not get a hearing in the Senate. The program, which provides a sales tax exemption for heating assistance for low-income households, will expire on July 1 unless it is added to the new budget bill.

“I am hopeful that this too can be included in the final budget plan,” Tebbe said.

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion. For a complete report on the fate of the ICC’s legislative agenda, go to

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