April 28, 2017

ICC uses session to advance consistent life ethic, common good

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

The 2017 legislative session of the Indiana General Assembly adjourned on April 21. Each session offers opportunities to promote the consistent life ethic and further the common good, said Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC), who serves as the public policy spokesperson for the bishops in Indiana.

Tebbe noted that it has been the work of the ICC to communicate to lawmakers the value and dignity of the human person from conception until natural death, and in 2017, several legislative initiatives to further these goals in the form of pro-life legislation, education policy and support for low-income children and families proved successful.

ICC worked in cooperation with the Indiana State Medical Association to halt a proposal to legalize physician-assisted suicide in Indiana. National groups like Compassion & Choices and Death with Dignity actively work to legalize physician-assisted suicide and continue to lobby state lawmakers. Members of the Indiana House and Senate introduced bills which would have allowed a person with a terminal illness to request a lethal dose of medication from their attending physician to end the individual’s life.

“I am grateful that the physician-assisted suicide proposals failed to get a hearing this year,” said Tebbe. “We need to stand up for the inherent dignity and respect due each person, especially the most vulnerable. We oppose efforts to legalize physician-assisted suicide.”

Sen. James Merritt, R-Indianapolis, authored a death penalty ban for those suffering from serious mental illnesses. The ICC supported the death penalty ban, but Merritt’s bill stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee and failed to advance. Tebbe said he was disappointed the bill failed, but said bipartisan support existed and a general consensus that persons suffering with serious mental illnesses should not be put to death. The ICC executive director said the proposal failed because the bill’s language was too broad. The Senate did pass Senate Resolution 64, authored by Sen. Joe Zakas, R-Granger, to have the topic assigned to a study committee after the session, which Tebbe says is a positive sign for the future.

Lawmakers adopted a bill strengthening parental rights for minors seeking an abortion. Senate Bill 404, supported by the ICC and authored by Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, adds verification of parental identity to parental notification for minors seeking an abortion. The provision was added to Indiana’s informed consent law. It gives the parents of a minor who obtains an abortion without parental permission the ability to collect damages against a person who either posed as the parent, or aided the parent’s minor child in obtaining an abortion. The bill increases the age of reporting child sex abuse from under the age of 14 to under 16 years of age.

The ICC supported legislation, which passed, calling for improvement in abandoned infant protection by placing a “baby box” at hospitals or hospital‑affiliated locations. Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, authored the bill, which improves upon Indiana’s Safe Haven Law by allowing parents to relinquish their child anonymously to a newborn incubator device, also called a “baby box,” at designated locations. The change involved allowing new devices to be placed only at hospitals or hospital-affiliated locations for safety reasons.

In the area of education, two proposals supported by the ICC passed, including an expansion of pre-kindergarten (pre-K) and religious liberty in schools. The pre-K expansion, House Bill 1004, authored by Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, builds upon the state’s On My Way Pre-K pilot program which serves income-eligible

4-year-olds in five counties, but expanded it to up to 20 counties. A key component of the pre-K expansion includes a voucher component which allows pre-K students to enter kindergarten using a voucher to remain in the school where they attended pre-school. Without this provision, income-eligible students who were attending a pre-K program—which also has a nonpublic K-8 school attached to it—would have been forced to leave to attend kindergarten in a public school first if they wanted to use a voucher. Tebbe said the voucher provision provides a seamless transition for children to remain in the same school setting.

A bill to protect students’ religious liberty was supported by the ICC and passed. House Bill 1024, authored by Rep. John Bartlett, D-Indianapolis, allows students to express religious beliefs at school or in class assignments. Tebbe said the legislation codifies case law which has developed over the past few decades. Bartlett said, “It is giving Hoosiers the ability to express their faith without fearing discrimination.”

Efforts by the ICC to assist low-income families and children paid off this year. Senate Bill 154, authored by Merritt, increases the assets a low-income person may retain while continuing to receive food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Tebbe said raising the asset limit helps low-income persons by setting them up for financial success and self-sufficiency while meeting their current need for food. Under the proposal, recipients of SNAP benefits will not be penalized for building up a small savings, but rather helps them have a reserve for emergencies.

A payday lending bill deemed to harm low-income persons failed in part due to efforts made by the ICC and other advocates for low-income persons. The proposal, Senate Bill 245, authored by Holdman, would have expanded short‑term loan amounts allowing persons to borrow larger amounts at a rate of 216 percent of the annual percentage rate. Tebbe said the ICC opposed the short‑term loans due to concerns that it would trap lower‑income persons in debt and a process of recycling high interest loans.

While the Indiana General Assembly completed its legislative business on April 21, the ICC continues to work with public policy officials as laws are implemented. Interim study committees also soon begin examining issues for potential legislation in 2018.

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion. To view a more detailed update on bills which passed, go to the ICC Web page at www.indianacc.org.)

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