With major victories in the pro-life arena and other matters of human dignity, the Indiana Catholic Conference considers the recently concluded 2019 session of the General Assembly a positive one overall.
Throughout the course of the four-month session, the ICC closely tracked and promoted legislation concerning pro-life issues, religious liberty, payday lending industry practices and parental authority with respect to education choice. From the standpoint of the Catholic Church and many other advocates for the common good, favorable developments occurred in all of these areas.
“This was a successful legislative session for the people of Indiana,” said Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the ICC, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Indiana. “The dignity of people was upheld, and the sanctity of life was promoted. These are always our guiding principles.”
Two of the most significant achievements occurred late in the session with the passage of important pro-life bills. House Bill 1211 bans dismemberment abortion, an abortion method in the second trimester of pregnancy that involves tearing a live fetus apart in the uterus and extracting the unborn child piece by piece. Senate Bill 201 expands conscience protection rights beyond physicians and hospital employees to nurses, pharmacists and physician assistants, ensuring that they do not have to participate in abortion procedures if they object on moral grounds.
Gov. Eric Holcomb signed both bills into law on April 24, the final day of the legislative session. As expected, the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana immediately challenged the dismemberment abortion law. But Mike Fichter, president and chief executive officer of Indiana Right to Life, maintains that the legislation is “on very solid constitutional ground.”
Another life-affirming bill, House Bill 1547, unanimously passed both chambers of the General Assembly. Pregnant minors now will be able to consent for health care services at all stages of their pregnancy through delivery, provided that a reasonable attempt is made to contact their parents or legal guardians. Lawmakers were particularly focused on pregnant girls who have no parental support or involvement, but the ICC and other advocates worked to ensure that parents’ rights were not circumvented.
“We are pleased that so many important pro-life issues were promoted and adopted, and that some negative things were stopped,” Tebbe said.
With regard to the latter, a bill promoting assisted reproduction and gestational surrogacy (House Bill 1369) stalled in the Senate. In addition, companion bills promoting physician-assisted suicide failed to receive a hearing in either chamber of the General Assembly.
“The ICC’s focus for each session always includes upholding the dignity of human life, protecting the well-being of the family, defending the integrity and religious liberty of the Church and all Hoosiers and protecting the vulnerable from exploitation,” Tebbe said. “For the most part, these objectives were achieved during the 2019 legislative session.”
This was a long session of the General Assembly, occurring every other year. Lawmakers concluded their business five days ahead of the April 29 deadline. Although many bills were left undetermined at the close of the session, the Assembly fulfilled its primary responsibility: drafting and approving Indiana’s biennial budget.
The 2019-20 budget, House Bill 1001, passed mostly along party lines. The budget saw a significant increase for K-12 education, with many favorable provisions for non-public schools.
“School choice was protected,” Tebbe said. “That is a very positive outcome for families in Indiana.”
One significant change was the creation of a third tier of funding for the state’s voucher program. This will provide more opportunities for families caught in the middle of the two existing income eligibility levels to send their children to the school of their choice.
Lawmakers also approved an increase in the scholarship tax credit cap, which offers individuals and corporations an opportunity to raise more funds for private school scholarships. Another change was the addition of a second-semester window to allow families to apply for vouchers later in a school year.
Catholic and other nonpublic schools also were included in a school safety bill, House Bill 1004, which passed both legislative chambers. Among other provisions, the bill expands and adjusts safety funding for schools and requires every school statewide to conduct one active-shooter drill within the first 90 days of the school year.
“It is important to ensure the safety of all children no matter where they are and no matter what school they attend,” Tebbe said.
Protecting the most vulnerable people from an economic standpoint also was a top priority of the ICC. A major victory was the recent defeat of Senate Bill 613, which would have dramatically expanded predatory lending in the state. However, Senate Bill 104, which would have placed severe limits on the payday loan industry, stalled earlier in the legislative session.
Another setback was the failure of Senate Bill 440, which would have modernized the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program in Indiana. The $288 monthly payout for families in poverty to help them temporarily through hard times has not been updated since 1988. The TANF bill, which had support from the ICC and many other advocates, unanimously passed the Senate but did not get a hearing in the House Ways and Means committee.
“As with all legislative sessions, there are disappointments,” Tebbe said. “Overall, we are very pleased with the outcomes this year. But there is always more to do.”
For more detailed information regarding these bills and other priority legislation of the ICC, visit http://www.indianacc.org/. This website includes access to I-CAN, the Indiana Catholic Action Network, which offers the Church’s position on key issues. Those who sign up for I-CAN receive alerts on legislation moving forward and ways to contact their elected representatives.
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