By Victoria Arthur
Statehouse Correspondent for Indiana’s Catholic Newspapers
From backing a pro-life bill that passed the General Assembly to helping to halt a measure that would have taken financial advantage from the poor, the Indiana Catholic Conference counts some successes in the 2022 legislative session while looking ahead to the future.
Among the bills awaiting Gov. Eric Holcomb’s signature at press time was House Bill 1217, which would make it a felony in Indiana to coerce a woman into having an abortion.
The bill, authored by Rep. Joanna King (R-Middlebury), requires medical personnel to ask a pregnant woman seeking an abortion whether she has been forced by someone to do so. If she indicates that she has, the provider would be required to offer her information on services available, the use of a telephone and an alternative exit from the health care facility. The bill also mandates reporting of a coerced abortion to law enforcement.
With the governor’s signature, Indiana would become the 19th state to offer protections to women from coerced abortion.
“Protecting the most vulnerable in our society remains our most important objective,” said Angela Espada, executive director of the ICC, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Indiana. “This bill was one important step forward, but there are so many other pro-life priorities that demand our attention – among them, opposing the death penalty and assisted suicide; offering better accommodations for pregnant women in the workplace; and upholding the sanctity of life at every stage.”
Pro-life efforts were on the minds of many at the Statehouse last week in the final days of the 2022 legislative session.
As lawmakers concluded this year’s short legislative session earlier than expected – after midnight on March 9 – there was already talk of reconvening this summer in a special session following the anticipated ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that could potentially overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide.
The current case before the high court, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, involves a Mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks. Among the possible outcomes of the Supreme Court ruling, expected in June, is returning the regulation of abortion to the states.
One hundred of the 110 Republican members of the General Assembly signed and sent a March 8 letter to Gov. Holcomb calling for a special session, “should the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling expand Indiana’s ability to protect unborn children.
“As a state that recognizes that life is a precious gift that should never be neglected, it is our desire that you, as the Governor of Indiana, ensure that those values are upheld without delay,” the letter stated. “We have a responsibility to Hoosiers to ensure that our state laws are aligned with the Supreme Court’s decision if Roe v. Wade is wholly, or partially, overturned.”
In their latest podcast, Espada and Alexander Mingus, associate director of the ICC, vowed to keep the Catholic faithful informed of developments on this and other issues important to the Church. They also expressed gratitude to those who contacted their lawmakers to either support or oppose legislation in keeping with Catholic social teaching, which forms the basis for the ICC’s position on matters in the public arena.
“We thank you, because some of these successes wouldn’t have been possible without your support,” Espada said, pointing to the defeat of a predatory lending bill as a prime example.
Senate Bill 352 had proposed a new subprime loan product to people in need of emergency cash but lacking credit. In reality, Espada said, the proposal amounted to “usury in another form by another name.”
While the bill capped the interest rate for subprime loans at 36 percent, it included maintenance fees and other fees that could exceed 75-100 percent of the principal of the loan – particularly for loans over $1,500. An amendment added later to the bill specifically allowed lenders to evade the 72-percent cap under the state’s criminal loansharking statute.
Senate Bill 352 narrowly passed the Senate but did not advance in the House amid staunch opposition from the ICC and other advocates for the poor.
Another victory for these advocates was the passage of Senate Bill 1361, which the governor signed into law on March 10. This measure strengthens protections for those who qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families – a federal program that provides grants to the states to administer cash payments to families in deep poverty.
The primary author of the bipartisan measure, Rep. Chuck Goodrich (R-Noblesville), had sought to eliminate barriers that many families faced in receiving that federal help because of outdated state guidelines. That included an asset limit of $1,000 for families qualifying for TANF to continue receiving those temporary benefits, which have a lifetime cap of 24 months for adults.
Under the new state law, that asset limit has been increased to $10,000. Additionally, the measure exempts $20,000 of total equity value of the family’s motor vehicles from eligibility guidelines.
“We are grateful for these positive steps, although we still hope to see more far-reaching change to the state’s administration of the TANF program in the future,” Mingus said. “With inflation rates soaring, families in poverty are truly suffering.”
The ICC and its allies have been pushing for years for what they consider a long-overdue update to TANF in Indiana. That includes a meaningful increase to the $288 maximum monthly cash payment for a family of three in deep poverty – which has not been adjusted for inflation since 1988. But a complete overhaul to TANF in Indiana was passed over again in the legislature.
Another disappointment for the ICC was the advancement of so-called “lawful carry” or “Constitutional carry” legislation. Originally proposed in House Bill 1077, the measure would repeal the law requiring a license to carry a handgun in Indiana.
After a contentious path through the Statehouse, which eventually saw the bill stripped and then amended into an entirely unrelated measure – House Bill 1296 – the legislation was awaiting Gov. Holcomb’s signature at press time. As with any legislation that passes both chambers of the General Assembly, if the governor does not sign or veto the bill within seven days of its arrival on his desk, it will become law without his signature.
Espada said that the Catholic Church views this as a pro-life issue and urged the faithful to reach out to the governor to oppose the measure.
Reflecting on this short, non-budget-year legislative session that generated much controversy, Espada said she appreciated the civility she witnessed at the Statehouse even during the most intense committee hearings.
“There were many bills that people felt strongly about on both sides of the issue,” Espada said. “After seeing other states where there was rancor and a lack of civility amid division, I was uplifted by the show of respect that opponents demonstrated. We may not win every battle, but if we can continue to be civil, perhaps we can continue to talk to reach common ground.”
Mingus, who just completed his second legislative session in his new role, said that the ICC’s work cannot be measured only by wins and losses at the Statehouse.
“It’s about bringing the Church’s voice into the discussion and transforming the way people think,” he said. “It’s about walking with people and helping them to see the truth, beauty and goodness of what the Church has to offer and what the Church says about our world.”
For more information and ways to get involved with the ICC and its mission, visit www.indianacc.org.