A major pro-life victory was among the highlights of this year’s short session of the Indiana General Assembly, which saw successes as well as setbacks for the Indiana Catholic Conference.
Senate Bill 299, a measure that clarifies requirements for abortion providers to treat fetal remains with dignity, passed both chambers of the state legislature with bipartisan support and at press time was awaiting Gov. Eric Holcomb’s signature. Authored by Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, the bill gives direction to the Indiana State Department of Health and augments a 2016 state law requiring the respectful disposition of fetal remains after abortion, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court after being challenged by the abortion industry.
If signed into law, Senate Bill 299 will mandate that abortion providers in Indiana have policies in place with a funeral home or licensed burial provider to dispose of fetal remains by burial or cremation.
“This is a very positive outcome, and it needed to be done,” said Glenn Tebbe, associate director of the ICC, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Indiana. “The clarification and implementation of the law stating that fetal remains be treated with dignity as human remains and not as medical waste is a significant step forward. The ICC always puts respect for life at the top of its priorities, and we applaud lawmakers for taking this important stand.”
The 2020 legislative session, which concluded March 11, marked the final one with Tebbe’s longtime presence at the Statehouse. Tebbe led the ICC for 16 years before transitioning the executive director role to Angela Espada on Jan. 1. He continued to collaborate with Espada throughout the session and will remain involved in ICC business until his anticipated retirement in mid-May.
As in past years, the ICC promoted certain legislation in keeping with Catholic social teaching, while opposing other measures.
“We had many bills that would have been detrimental to the well-being of society that were fortunately not heard,” Tebbe said. “Those included bills concerning physician-assisted suicide and gestational surrogacy.”
Education is always a key priority of the ICC, and Tebbe and Espada point to positive moves on that front this year. Among the numerous measures that sought to streamline bureaucracy in education was House Bill 1003, which reduces ever-growing requirements for teacher training. Tebbe emphasized that this legislation, which moved forward with broad support, will benefit all schools in Indiana, both public and non-public.
Another measure backed by the ICC was House Bill 1066, an omnibus education bill that included closing certain gaps in school voucher eligibility for siblings and foster children. Although that language was eventually stripped from the bill, Tebbe said he was heartened by the tone of the debate and the fact that many lawmakers indicated the provision might be more successful in next year’s longer legislative session, which will include the creation and passage of the state’s biennial budget.
“The discussion was very positive, without the animosity that is sometimes there with regard to the school choice program,” Tebbe said. “Although in the end the law wasn’t changed because of this being a non-budget year, we heard from many legislators that they intend to make that change next year.”
Another ICC-supported bill was signed into law by Gov. Holcomb on the final day of the legislative session. House Bill 1009, authored by Rep. Chuck Goodrich, R-Noblesville, will benefit poor families by exempting a student’s income earned through a paid internship or other work-based opportunity from their family’s eligibility for certain government-assistance programs. Those include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps, and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
At the same time, a long-overdue modernization of TANF itself was passed over again, to the dismay of the ICC and other advocates for the poor. Other setbacks during the legislative session included the failure of Senate Bill 67, a measure that would have given more authority to township trustees to aid the homeless in their area who may not be from their township or cannot prove their legal residence.
“This session had some disappointing moments, when legislation that would have helped the poor or vulnerable did not move forward,” Espada said. “There were also many high points. And for me, one of the highlights was having Glenn as a source of information and knowledge. It was an honor to have him accompany me through my first session, and it remains an honor for me to represent the Church.”
Tebbe said the ICC is in good hands moving forward under Espada’s leadership.
“She embraced this role, was a quick learner, and was very effective,” Tebbe said. “I look forward to her continuing what is now a more than 50-year tradition of the ICC at the Statehouse. We are one of the few religious entities that have an ongoing and sustained presence there, and our conference is still relevant and effective, particularly when we work in harmony with other like-minded individuals and groups. We are even more effective when we have the Catholic faithful echoing Church teaching and reminding legislators that they’re watching and they’re interested.
“Legislators — both Catholic and non-Catholic — do want to know where the Church stands on many issues,” Tebbe continued. “They recognize that we are a consistent moral voice, and we don’t have an ideological or party affiliation. I’ve been privileged to have this position, and whatever successes we have had have been a team effort.”
For more detailed information regarding these bills and other priority legislation of the ICC, visit www.indianacc.org. This website includes I-CAN, the Indiana Catholic Action Network, which offers the Church’s position on key issues and ways to contact elected representatives.
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