March 23, 2018

ICC priority bills pass in final hours of General Assembly

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

State lawmakers passed several Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC) priority bills during the final days and hours of the Indiana General Assembly before it adjourned on March 14.

But the legislators’ work isn’t done. Gov. Eric Holcomb announced on March 19 that he will call the General Assembly into a special session in May. Among other issues, he wants lawmakers to address a school safety funding bill that died without a vote when the legislature concluded last week.

“It’s been a good session,” said Glenn Tebbe, ICC executive director who serves as the public policy spokesperson for the bishops in Indiana, referring to this year’s regular legislative action of state lawmakers and his efforts to forward issues that are important to the bishops and for the common good of all residents.

“Given the dynamic of short legislative session, it’s hard for lawmakers to get a lot done,” said Tebbe. “Knowing that reality, I had fairly low expectations for significant progress. Yet despite the short session, some fairly significant and positive legislation passed.”

The ICC executive director said he was very pleased with the quick action lawmakers took to correct the “Dreamers” professional licensing dilemma. Dreamers are undocumented immigrants brought into the U.S. as children who are eligible for participation in the federal program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA.

As a result of a 2011 bill passed by the Indiana General Assembly, which predated DACA, Dreamers were shut out of getting professional licenses in Indiana.

“Sometimes the immigration issue can become partisan, but this year, lawmakers took quick, bipartisan action to restore professional licensing for young Dreamers,” said Tebbe.

In all his years of working in the Statehouse, Tebbe said he has seldom seen this kind of resolve and success at fixing a problem.

Indiana lawmakers passed the Dreamers’ professional licensing proposal, Senate Bill 419, which restores access to professional licenses for roughly 9,800 state DACA participants for up to 70 professional license categories.

“The bill will have a positive impact not only on those individuals directly affected by the licensing, but for the entire families,” Tebbe said. “Employers will also benefit because they will be able to retain or hire those who maintain the proper licensing.”

Lower-income residents also benefit in two ways from legislative action the ICC worked on this year. The ICC advocated for an expansion in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for persons with a former drug felony conviction. Lawmakers passed the proposal, Senate Bill 11, which removes the permanent ban from food assistance under SNAP for convicted drug felons as long as they follow certain release guidelines.

“Individuals, after serving their sentence and release from jail or prison, have many obstacles when rejoining the community,” Tebbe said. “Persons who have paid their debt and are attempting to rectify past mistakes should be given the opportunity to prove themselves, and be eligible for support and programs that can assist them and affirm their human dignity.”

To prevent exploitation of the poor, the ICC worked to stop an expansion of the “payday” loan practice in Indiana. The proposal, House Bill 1319, which failed to pass in the Senate, would have created a new class of payday loans which charge annual interest rates more than triple what Indiana law currently considers felony loan sharking. Testimony earlier in the session indicated these high interest loan products keep people trapped in a debt cycle.

The House passed the bill, but it was stopped in the Senate when lawmakers did not give the bill a hearing. Tebbe said community development organizations, nonprofits and many churches are working together to help low-income persons meet day-to-day needs, and teach them long-term, constructive ways to budget, save money and build credit so they can emerge out of poverty.

The ICC advocated for several proposals to protect the sanctity of life of the unborn and protect and inform mothers considering abortion. Senate Bill 340, which passed in both chambers, updates Indiana’s abortion regulations to require annual inspections of abortion centers and added distinct requirements for surgical and chemical abortions.

Tebbe said that due to the increase of chemical abortions and complications arising from them, and as more and more drugs are purchased through the Internet, doctors and emergency centers will now be required to report these complications to the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH). Information about Indiana’s Safe Haven law will be included in the informed consent brochure and on the ISDH website so that women are aware of the ways they can give up their baby anonymously after birth should the mother be unable to provide care.

In the same proposal, Indiana’s Safe Haven law also was expanded by allowing newborn safety devices, commonly referred to as “baby boxes,” to be installed at fire stations that are staffed by emergency medical providers at all times. The boxes themselves must be located in conspicuous areas visible to the staff and have dual alarm systems tested at least monthly.

Indiana’s law regarding death of a fetus was also changed. Current law provides that should a fetus be killed during an attack on the mother, the sentence for the crime would include the fetus, if he or she had reached viability. The law passed this year allows an enhancement of the sentence for a fetus at any stage of development, affirming life begins at conception.

For a full listing and more details about what happened to ICC priority bills during the session, go to www.indianacc.org.
 

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

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