February 14, 2014

ICC’s legislative priorities make it to halfway point

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

The Indiana Catholic Conference’s (ICC) legislative priorities successfully reached the halfway point in the Indiana General Assembly, also known as “crossover.”

Among the ICC priority bills that have advanced to “crossover” are a measure to strengthen traditional marriage, and bills to improve early childhood education and child care safety. Legislation to clarify insurance coverage for abortion, and a bill to provide better follow-up care after an abortion also moved forward.

Glenn Tebbe, executive director for the ICC, who serves as the official spokesman for the Catholic Church in Indiana on public policy matters, said, “The majority of the bills we have supported this year have passed the first chamber with bipartisan support.”

House Joint Resolution 3 (HJR 3), authored by Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, seeks to solidify current law regarding marriage by placing before the state’s voters in this fall’s general election a proposed amendment to Indiana’s Constitution that would define marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman.

HJR 3 passed the House by a 57-40 vote on Jan. 28, after being amended the previous day. HJR 3 currently contains only the statement that a marriage is between one man and one woman.

On Jan. 27, the House voted 52-43 to remove the second sentence which prohibits any legal status “identical or substantially similar to that of marriage” for unmarried individuals. Turner argued to keep the second sentence because it provides a stronger definition of marriage between one man and one woman.

As this newspaper went to press, HJR 3 was scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Rules Committee on Feb. 10. Tebbe expects there will be attempts in the Senate to restore HJR 3 to its original form by adding the second sentence back into the resolution.

In order for a proposed state constitutional amendment to be placed on a ballot, two separately elected legislatures need to have approved it without amendment. Because of this, if the amended version of HJR3 is passed by the Senate, it will not appear on this fall’s ballot but would have to be approved again without amendment by the next legislature.

A bill to give low-income families with young children access to an early education voucher passed the House on Jan. 16, receiving a bipartisan vote of 87-9. House Bill 1004 establishes the early education scholarship pilot program. The program would provide supplemental funding for eligible children receiving qualified services from certain early education providers. The bill gives a child or a sibling of a child who receives an early education scholarship and meets certain other applicable criteria access to the Choice Scholarship program from kindergarten through 12th grade.

The bill is co-authored by three Indianapolis lawmakers, Rep. Bob Behning and House Speaker Brian Bosma, both Republicans, and Rep. Shelli VanDenburgh, a Democrat. Tebbe expects the bill to get a hearing in the Senate, but noted that the Senate has been less receptive of early childhood education legislation.

A bill to improve child care regulations for day care centers passed the House on Jan. 28 by a 71-24 vote with bipartisan support. House Bill 1036, authored by Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, increases accountability and improves group sizes of children, food, health, safety and sanitation standards. The specific standards would be determined by the Division of Family and Children. The bill moved to the Senate for further consideration. Tebbe expects the bill to get a hearing in the Senate and move forward.

A bill to clarify insurance for elective abortion, House Bill 1123, passed the House with bipartisan support by an 80-14 vote. The bill, authored by Rep. Jeffery Thompson, R-Lizton, would prohibit elective abortion coverage in standard health insurance plans. The bill would make elective abortion coverage available only as a separate rider for health insurance policies purchased privately and in group coverage. It now goes to the Senate for consideration. Tebbe expects the bill to get a hearing in the Senate and move forward in the process.

A bill to enhance follow-up care after an abortion passed the Senate 34-14 on Feb. 4. Senate Bill 292, authored by Sen. John Waterman, R-Shelburn, provides clarity to the current abortion statute by requiring written documentation of admitting privileges and better notification of where follow-up care can be obtained should complications follow an abortion. Tebbe said the fate of this bill is uncertain due to the controversial nature of abortion legislation.

When discussing some other bills that were considered by the General Assembly, Tebbe said, “The Church sometimes works to defeat legislation which, if passed, could have a harmful effect.”

Tebbe explained that a few bills the ICC was successful in halting included House Bill 1264 and Senate Bill 162, which would have added unnecessary government regulation to the school voucher program, and Senate Bill 62, a proposal to add more out-of-state gaming operations to compete for Indiana limited charitable gaming dollars.

What happens next in the legislative process?

“The process starts over again. Existing Senate bills will ‘crossover’ to the House to be considered by the House, and House bills will ‘crossover’ to the Senate to be considered by the Senate,” Tebbe explained.

“If all goes well, these bills will be assigned to a committee, scheduled for a committee hearing, be passed by the committee, then get a second and third reading for final passage,” he said. “During this process, almost anything can happen. A bill can be amended, remain the same, die or pass.”

The Indiana General Assembly must adjourn by March 14.

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion. For more information about the Indiana Catholic Conference, log on to www.indianacc.org. To explore the ICC’s electronic public policy tool and join the ICC legislative network, go to the ICC Web page and click “Legislative Action Center.”)

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