March 14, 2012 // Local

Human trafficking and home energy assistance among legislation to promote human dignity

School choice expansion, efforts to curb chemical abortion failed

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

INDIANAPOLIS — March 9 marked the close of another session of the Indiana General Assembly. Adjournment came with mixed results.

Legislation to curb human trafficking, assist low income families with home energy and improve access to the scholarship tax credit were among the legislative accomplishments supported by the Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC) that passed this year. Yet measures to address chemical abortion and expand school choice for current non-public school families failed.

“I’m pleased with the actions taken by the Indiana General Assembly to address the issue of human trafficking,” said Glenn Tebbe, ICC executive director. “The Church supports clarifying the law and making it easier to convict people who commit the crime of human trafficking.”

In early January, Indiana’s attorney general Greg Zoeller began pushing for the Indiana General Assembly to act quickly to put more limits on the crime of human trafficking especially with the venue of the Super Bowl coming to town. Zoeller said, “Human trafficking is a problem that has been ignored until recently. It’s one that’s growing, I think, primarily fueled by the same energy that brings drugs to the United States.”

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that 10,000 prostitutes were brought to the 2010 Super Bowl in Miami.

State Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, who co-authored the legislation with State Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport, said he did so to clear-up ambiguities within Indiana’s current human trafficking statutes. “Experts agree human trafficking is a grim epidemic worldwide, and is certainly prevalent in the United States,” Walker said. “In fact, roughly 4 million people fall victim to human trafficking every year. What’s more, Indiana recently received a ‘D grade’ for its related laws. This is simply unacceptable.”

Under the newly passed human trafficking legislation, Senate Bill 4, it is illegal for any person to arrange for any person to participate in any forced sex act. Prior to SB 4, Indiana law only prohibited forced marriage and prostitution. SB 4 also makes it easier to prosecute for human trafficking because the burden of proof is not on the prosecutor to show coercion, as it was prior to SB 4 passing.

A measure to help low-to-moderate income families receive assistance for home energy costs also passed. House Bill 1141, authored by State Rep. Peggy Welch, D-Bloomington, provides additional assistance to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). It does so by restoring the sales tax exemption for energy consumption paid for through federal assistance. The legislation will utilize all federal funds for the purpose for which they were granted instead of taking a 7 percent sales tax. The sales tax exemption will be extended to 2020.

“Again, the Church applauds the efforts of lawmakers who passed the home heating legislation which will assist low income families struggling with home energy costs by passing the home energy bill,” said Tebbe.

“There were some disappointments this year, including the fact that the chemical abortion legislation and school choice expansion for current non-public school families did not become law,” said Tebbe. “The right-to-work issue not only dominated the early part of the year, but because of the heated controversy in the House, it contributed to the failure of passing other controversial issues including putting limits on chemical abortion,” he said.

Senate Bill 72, authored by State Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, was an attempt to prohibit “telemed” abortions by requiring the doctor to do a physical exam before and after prescribing RU 486. In some states, prescriptions for RU 486 are provided by doctors via a computer screen from a remote location. The bill is also limited only to physicians who could prescribe RU486. While the bill passed the Senate 36-0, the bill did not receive a hearing in the House.

“While I am disappointed the chemical abortion legislation did not move in the House, there was a lot of good testimony and discussion about the issue,” said Tebbe. “It raised awareness that chemical abortions happen in Indiana and can not be taken lightly. Awareness and education are the first steps toward getting effective informed consent legislation passed,” he said. “I expect informed consent for abortion to be revisited next year, and the Church will continue to work toward better informed consent laws and work toward life-affirming legislation.”

Three proposals to expand access to a school choice scholarship voucher for students currently enrolled in a non-public school failed this year. However a minor provision to allow a “once in, always in,” to the scholarship tax credit program did pass. The proposal, Senate Bill 296, authored by State Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, will allow non-public school families who qualify for a scholarship tax credit to remain eligible as long as their family meets the income requirements.

“Access to a school choice scholarship for non-public school students will continue to be an effort the Indiana Catholic Conference works toward,” said Tebbe.

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