January 13, 2017

Catholic conference gears up for state legislative session

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

The Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC) is gearing up for state legislative action as 150 lawmakers returned to the Statehouse on Jan. 3 in Indianapolis to craft a biennial budget by the April 29 adjournment deadline.

The ICC, which celebrated the 50-year anniversary of its founding in 2016, represents the Catholic Church in Indiana on national and state matters of public policy.

“The ICC communicates the value and dignity of the human person created in the image and likeness of God to state legislators and public policy makers,” said Glenn Tebbe, executive director, who serves as the public policy spokesperson for the bishops in Indiana.

“It is my job and the job of the Church through the ICC to share our theological perspective and practical experience with state public servants to assist them in making sound public policy to benefit the common good,” said Tebbe. “Our work and policy statements reflect an application of the consistent life ethic as it relates to proposed legislation, current and future public policies. We shed light on the value and dignity of the human person from conception until natural death.”

The ICC classifies issues into a few broad umbrella categories, including: life, education, families and children, and the common good. Tebbe has identified several priority issues upon which he will take action or keep a watchful eye this year.

In the life category, Tebbe anticipates legislation to be introduced banning the death penalty for those with serious mental illnesses.

“The Catholic Church’s efforts to abolish the death penalty are long standing,” he said. “The ICC will support legislation to ban the death penalty for those suffering from serious mental illness if the bill gets a hearing.”

Other states have enacted statutes legalizing physician-assisted suicide. Here, state lawmakers’ interest in taking on the end-of-life issue has not materialized, Tebbe said. The Catholic Church opposes assisted suicide in all its forms, and Tebbe said if a bill to legalize it surfaces this year, the Church will oppose it. But at this point, the ICC executive director said he is unaware of any bill being introduced in Indiana this year.

In the area of education, school choice legislation emerges every year, and Tebbe expects state lawmakers to act on expanding state-funded preschool. “As the preschool expansion takes place, I will be advocating that religiously affiliated schools can participate and not be left out of the equation to improve opportunities for Hoosier children,” he said. The Indiana Choice Scholarship Program continually undergoes “scrutiny,” and Tebbe says the issue often spawns a “point of contention” during legislative deliberation. During the session, Tebbe said he remains abreast and actively involved in discussions on possible tweaks to the plan, and offers suggestions and resources to improve access and delivery of the scholarship program as a whole.

Creating a new biennial budget lends itself to potential opportunities to promote the common good. Tebbe said he will work with others to ensure that programs to benefit the most vulnerable in society, including lower-income families and children or the elderly, are protected or enhanced.

One such issue that Tebbe said he will be working on includes help for those with opioid drug problems, and receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, commonly known as food stamps.

Current Indiana law prohibits any person with a drug felony to be banned permanently from receiving food assistance through the SNAP program, even if they qualify based on income. Tebbe said evidence-based research supports that individuals who receive adequate access to good nutrition have improved odds of reforming their lives, and such a program reduces recidivism.

He added he will also support adequate funding to alleviate the needs of families and children, including funding for education, both public and nonpublic.

The ICC director says he believes the session will be productive in advocating for the Church’s interests and furthering the common good. Throughout the session, Tebbe monitors or takes action on roughly 100 bills.

The Indiana General Assembly consists of 150 legislators—100 representatives and 50 senators. After the 2016 election, Republicans maintained a super majority in both the House and Senate, with 70 Republicans and 30 Democrats in the House, and 41 Republicans and nine Democrats serving in the Senate.

The ICC offers several resources on its webpage. People can stay up to date through legislative action reports, review position papers or by joining the Indiana Catholic Action Network (I-CAN). Also as a part of its 50-year anniversary, the ICC produced videos to explain the role and importance of its involvement in public policy making. These videos and other resources are available at the ICC webpage at www.indianacc.org.

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

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