There are some new voices at the Indiana Statehouse following the midterm elections of 2018, but one remains constant — that of the Catholic Church.
As lawmakers reconvened in Indianapolis on Jan. 3 to open the 2019 Indiana General Assembly, so did the Indiana Catholic Conference, which for more than 50 years has served as the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in the state. The ICC once again will follow proposed legislation and promote the Church’s position on key issues to legislators, the media and the general public.
Religious liberty, abortion, payday lending industry practices and parental authority with respect to education choice are among the issues the ICC is expected to track closely during this legislative session, according to Executive Director Glenn Tebbe.
“Protecting the dignity of people is always our guiding principle,” said Tebbe, now in his 15th year at the helm of the ICC. “At the forefront is promoting the sanctity of life, on matters ranging from abortion to assisted suicide. Our role is to make sure that the Church’s voice is heard on these and other important issues.”
This is a long session of the General Assembly, occurring every other year. Over the course of nearly four months, lawmakers will work toward their overarching goal of passing the state’s two-year budget, due by the adjournment deadline of April 29. But they also are expected to introduce up to 2,000 bills on a wide range of topics affecting Hoosiers. Several hundred already have been filed since the session’s opening.
Bills can originate in the House of Representatives or the Senate, and they must pass both houses to become law. Under Indiana law, the governor’s signature is not required for a bill to become a law. However, the governor does have veto power.
Following the November election, Republicans maintained their supermajority status in both chambers of the General Assembly, meaning that Republicans can pass bills without needing votes from Democrats.
Of the 150 lawmakers from across the state — 100 in the House, 50 in the Senate — 21 are new. The first couple of weeks of a legislative session involve getting acquainted with new legislators, reacquainted with longtime members and settling back into the fast-paced routine, according to Tebbe.
“Each session begins with real hope and optimism,” he said. “I know all the legislators are beginning with that same attitude. Everyone wants to do good things for the people of Indiana, and everyone is positive about what can be accomplished.”
As the ICC monitors the issues under debate, it does so guided by the Catholic Church’s 2,000-year trove of teachings on social justice. One example of applying age-old Catholic principles to modern life is the Church’s position on the payday lending industry. A payday loan — often called a “cash advance” – is a short-term loan usually involving an exorbitant interest rate. The loan is typically due on a person’s next payday. The most frequent targets of this industry are low-income individuals who can least afford to pay back the loans.
“Economic transactions should be guided by moral principles,” Tebbe said. “Lending practices that take unfair advantage of those in desperate circumstances are unjust.”
During the past three legislative sessions, the payday lending industry in Indiana advocated for bills to expand the scope of loans offered to the public.
“The Indiana Catholic Conference, along with other faith traditions and organizations that work to protect and help struggling families, were able to stop these bills,” Tebbe said. “We expect similar bills again this year. Besides opposing these bills, the conference will support a bill to limit the amount of interest and fees lenders can charge.”
The ICC’s priorities for the current legislative session will become clearer in the coming days and weeks, he said. But he also emphasized that an important part of the ICC’s role is to engage Catholics on these issues and encourage them to stay informed.
When bills are filed, they are assigned a number, and the details are made available to the public. As the ICC tracks bills, it posts legislative updates on its webpage. The Indiana Catholic Conference will report on important developments throughout the session of the General Assembly, and Today’s Catholic will publish those reports.
To learn more about the Indiana Catholic Conference, follow ICC priority legislation and receive regular updates, visit www.indianacc.org.
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