April 29, 2011

School choice and pro-life legislation both likely to become law

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

As the April 29 adjournment deadline approaches for the Indiana General Assembly to pass a budget and complete all other legislative business, the Indiana Catholic Conference’s (ICC) priority legislation heads for the homestretch.

School choice and pro-life legislation topped this year’s list as priorities for the ICC, and both are likely to become law in 2011.

School choice is one step closer to reality as House Bill 1003, the school scholarship bill, passed the Senate by a 28-22 vote.

The bill would award families that qualify for free and reduced lunches at schools to receive up to 90 percent of the tuition cost for their children to attend a private school of the parent’s choice.

Each child in a qualifying family would be eligible for up to $4,500 in school scholarship money. Families between 100 percent and 150 percent of the free and reduced lunch income would also be eligible for a 50 percent scholarship. Only students who were previously enrolled in a public school would be eligible for a scholarship.

The bill was amended on second reading in the Senate to provide a benefit for current private school parents. Parents of students in private or home schools with unreimbursed expenses can deduct $1,000 per student from their adjusted gross income in computing their state income tax.

“While the income tax reduction is modest—only $34 per student—we wanted to put in this provision to recognize and support the efforts that parents have made a choice to send their children to a school that best fits their needs,” said Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, the author of the bill.

“The unreimbursed expenses could certainly include tuition which, in most cases, would be at least $1,000,” Behning said.

Another important provision of the bill increases the tax cap for the scholarship tax credit program.

The provision allows a greater number of scholarships for students entering kindergarten, who are excluded under the current bill. Once awarded a tax credit scholarship, the student is eligible for a voucher the following school year.

Since the Senate amended the bill, the author has the option of agreeing with the amendments or disagreeing with them.

Behning said that he plans to file a motion for a concurrence. He said that the House Republicans have a policy that all members of the caucus must agree with the Senate amendments before the author can concur.

“I think our caucus will agree to the Senate changes,” Behning said. “We are going to have to make a few tweaks to the bill to make sure it does what it is intended to do, but the overall changes were in line with the goals we are trying to achieve here.”

Behning said that he is fairly confident he has the votes for the bill to pass.

House Bill 1210, a pro-life measure aimed at reducing abortion and defunding Planned Parenthood, passed the Senate by a 35-13 vote.

“It is a major victory for the pro-life community because it accomplishes several goals,” said Glenn Tebbe, the ICC executive director. “First, it strengthens the informed consent law in Indiana.”

Prior to an abortion, information on the procedure must be given in writing as well as verbally to the woman. This includes the fact that life begins at conception, and that there are alternatives to abortion and support available for women who carry a baby to birth. The bill requires a woman to view an ultrasound of her unborn child before the abortion unless she refuses to view it.

“Secondly, the bill will prohibit abortion after 20 weeks and ban an Indiana health insurance exchange established under the federal health care act from including elective abortion coverage,” Tebbe said.

“Thirdly, the bill includes a prohibition for Indiana to contract with an organization that conducts abortions.”

House Bill 1210 now returns to the House for review of the changes made in the original bill.

“The House is expected to vote to concur,” Tebbe said. “We are hopeful that this significant pro-life bill will clear this final hurdle and pass this year.”

(Brigid Curtis Ayers is a correspondent for The Criterion. For more information on the Indiana Catholic Conference, log on to www.indianacc.org.)


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