January 12, 2018

Legislative session is expected to be ‘fast and furious’

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

“Fast and furious”—these are the words used by Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC), to describe what’s ahead for the less than three-month session of the 2018 Indiana General Assembly which reconvened at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis on Jan. 3.

Two aspects of this year’s General Assembly make for a crazy few months of lawmaking, Tebbe said. First, the session is a short, non-budgetary session. Lawmakers do not need to create a biennial budget. They did that in 2017. The short session also requires lawmakers to adjourn by March 15.

Second, 2018 is an election year. All 100 Indiana House members are up for re-election, and half of the 50 Indiana senators are as well.

“Lawmakers will be eager to hit the campaign trail as early as possible, while others may be eager to avoid controversial topics which may be used against them in an election year,” said Tebbe.

“Given this backdrop, the Indiana Catholic Conference plans to continue its work to advance the consistent life ethic and promote the common good,” he added.

Tebbe explained that the consistent life ethic is the principle that every human person, created in the image and likeness of God, deserves dignity and respect from conception to natural death. The ICC executive director’s role is to ensure that respect for each person is voiced and promoted as laws are being created and public policy is implemented.

Standing up for the common good and advancing the consistent life ethic takes many forms. “Sometimes, the ICC must play offense and work to get certain bills passed, and other times we are playing a bit of defense to protect laws that are beneficial to people and the common good,” said Tebbe. As in previous years, he expects there to be a mix of issues which require an offensive or defensive approach.

Education, pro-life, social issues and immigration top the general category list which the ICC monitors and promotes from a Catholic perspective year-round, but does so in a more vigilant way during the legislative session as new laws form.

Tebbe expects opponents of school choice to offer legislation adding more restrictions to access the school choice scholarship program, which benefits lower-income students and families. The ICC supports the program because it allows parents the right to find the best setting for their children to attend school. The scholarships help economically disadvantaged families who have the least choice.

Bills promoting life and others which limit abortion crop up every year. Legal experts agree that until Roe v. Wade is overturned, attempts to outlaw abortion on the state level have proved to be ineffective due to constitutionality issues. Tebbe says Indiana Right to Life may offer legislation to tweak current Indiana law. He notes that Indiana has some of the most stringent abortion regulations in the country, which the ICC continues to support.

A pro-life bill to guarantee certain work accommodations for pregnant women may move this year, according to Tebbe, and the ICC plans to support it. Attempts to legalize physician-assisted suicide are possible. The ICC is opposed to legalizing physician-assisted suicide, and continues to work to prevent a bill legalizing it.

Along the lines of economic justice, a bill dealing with payday lending is expected to resurface. The ICC has opposed payday lending legislation that expands the practice to further exploit low-wage earners. Testimony in previous years showed those with limited means who use payday lending services get trapped in a debt cycle and pay exorbitant, unjust interest rates.

Immigration legislation in Indiana has been aimed at revoking or preventing undocumented students from getting resident tuition rates. This issue may resurface. The ICC supports giving undocumented students who live in Indiana resident college tuition rates.

Tebbe said he expects Sunday sales of alcohol, legalization of medical marijuana, and the ongoing opioid crisis to garner a lot of attention during this session. These issues will likely overshadow some of the ICC efforts or issues.

Regarding Sunday sales of alcohol and legalizing medical marijuana, the ICC will monitor both issues. The ICC supports efforts to prevent opioid addiction and treat those suffering from it.

More than 500 bills will be filed for consideration this year. Lawmakers only have three weeks to hold hearings before the bills cross over to the second chamber for another round of three weeks of hearings. While it depends on the committee chair, only a handful of bills will get a hearing in each committee each week, said Tebbe.

To follow ICC priority legislation, details and get updates, go to www.indianacc.org.
 

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion.)

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