By Brigid Curtis Ayer
INDIANAPOLIS — As Hoosier lawmakers completed their legislative business March 10, the Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC) succeeded in making strides toward adding new protections for the unborn, assisting low income persons, and improving certain aspects of the state’s school choice program.
Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the ICC, said, “It was a good session; we had some positive things move forward and we were able to avert some negative things from happening. I’m really pleased with the way things turned out. It was a positive session.”
Tebbe said, “We made some positive strides to protect the unborn and upholding the sanctity of life. We also were able to correct an area where the abortion industry has been skirting regulations with regard to having a back-up doctor available in hospitals for follow-up care.”
Supported by the ICC, House Bill 1337, authored by Rep. Casey Cox, R-Fort Wayne passed the final week of the Indiana General Assembly. Cox described the bill as a “human rights cause” for the unborn. Cox said it gives protection to fetuses that are “most vulnerable.”
The measure prohibits a woman from getting an abortion if her decision is based solely on the sex, race, or disability of the fetus. The bill also places restrictions on how fetal remains are to be handled. The proposal requires fetal remains either from an abortion or a miscarriage to be interred or cremated rather than treated as medical waste. Concerns on the handling of fetal remains erupted nationwide when unethical practices by Planned Parenthood were captured on video by the Center for Medical Progress and released to the public.
The ICC also supported and worked toward improving the school choice program. A bill to improve access and streamline administration of the school choice program passed. The proposal, originally in Senate Bill 334, authored by Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, but added to House Bill 1005, includes a second opportunity to access a Choice Scholarship during the school year. The bill also reduces the endorsement signature requirement from multiple times per year, to a single annual endorsement on the scholarship checks.
“Simply put, the bill provides the ability for children to receive a voucher for the spring semester of school,” said Yoder. “Under current law, students have to receive the voucher in the fall and if anyone wants to attend a nonpublic school at any other time during that school year, they are stuck waiting until the next school year.”
Tebbe said, “More families can take advantage of school choice with the extended deadlines for applications, and the bill also reduces the administrative burden for school staff and the families by eliminating some of the multiple signatures during a single school year.”
Low income individuals were helped this session by an expansion of a special savings account called an Individual Development Account (IDA). The measure, authored by Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, aims to improve the state’s IDA program by ensuring more individuals can take advantage of this resource by increasing the maximum income eligibility from 175 percent to 200 percent of the federal income poverty level guidelines. For a family of four the income eligibility for IDAs would be up to $48,600 annually. “Every dollar saved, the IDA participants get a three dollar match on their deposit up to $900 per year,” said Messmer.
Currently under the program, IDA savers can receive financial management support including financial literacy courses and assistance in planning for a business, attaining higher education or buying a home. The IDA bill allows participants to use IDA funds to purchase a vehicle when used as transportation to adult or secondary educational opportunities. Tebbe said, “The IDA expansion will help more low income Hoosiers to work toward becoming self-sufficient by giving them the tools to save more income with a state match.” The ICC was instrumental in getting the original IDA legislation passed in 1997, when the program was created for low income Hoosiers.
Low income persons also were protected from exploitation by the failure of a payday lending bill expansion. House Bill 1340 would have allowed expansion of the industry to lend installment loans up to $1,000 and at an increased annual percentage rate (APR) of up to 180 percent. Lawmakers rejected the expansion, but agreed to create a summer study panel to look into alternative lending options for low income Hoosiers. Tebbe said, “We kept payday lending legislation from expanding in such a way that would have harmed low income individuals, and we supported the study of the industry in the summer study committee. We are hopeful the summer panel will offer positive lending alternatives for low income Hoosiers.”
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