By Victoria Arthur
Statehouse Correspondent for Indiana’s Catholic Newspapers
The Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC) is once again adding its voice to important issues under consideration at the state legislature while calling on the Catholic faithful to join its efforts.
The 2024 Indiana General Assembly opened for business Jan. 8 for a short, non-budget-year session that is expected to conclude by mid-March. As state lawmakers introduce and debate a flurry of bills on a wide range of topics, the ICC is discerning which issues and legislation are the most significant through the lens of 2,000 years of Catholic social teaching.
“While this is a short session that does not include big budget items, it is still important to stay engaged,” said Angela Espada, executive director of the ICC, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Indiana. “We hope that the faithful will continue to make themselves aware of important legislative issues and act as faithful citizens.”
Promoting the common good and protecting the most vulnerable members of society form the basis for the Church’s engagement in the public arena, Espada said. As it has for more than half a century, the ICC advocates either for or against proposed legislation in line with Catholic social doctrine.
The ICC encourages the Catholic faithful to stay informed and involved on key issues and legislation and offers numerous resources to do so. The ICC website, www.indianacc.org, provides information as well as access to ICAN, the Indiana Catholic Action Network. Those who sign up for ICAN receive action alerts on important legislation and ways to contact their elected representatives.
The website also links to a weekly podcast during the legislative session hosted by Espada and Alexander Mingus, ICC associate director. In keeping with priorities outlined by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, ICC leaders have often spoken on the concept of Faithful Citizenship – the duty and responsibility that Catholics have to bring their faith to the public forum.
“We invite everyone to participate, to reach out to their legislators, so that it’s the entire Indiana Catholic Action Network responding to the bills that have great moral consequence,” Mingus said.
While noting that many lawmakers have indicated they want to get through the session with “as little controversy as possible,” Mingus said the ICC will be interested in many key legislative priorities. Among them are major agenda items Gov. Eric Holcomb outlined in his Jan. 9 State of the State address, including increasing disaster relief funding, improving childhood literacy, and expanding Indiana’s childcare workforce to help more working parents statewide.
ICC leaders also expect to track legislation aimed at affordable housing, legal rights for tenants, and protecting children online. One issue likely to arise again is providing driving cards for undocumented Indiana residents who cannot prove their lawful status.
Indiana is home to an estimated 100,000 undocumented residents, many of whom have begun the process to become citizens, and the cards would allow them to drive legally and purchase car insurance. The ICC has joined other advocates in supporting this legislation in the past, maintaining that it would help address basic human needs while offering larger economic and public safety benefits. Last year, driving card legislation gained more traction than ever before at the Statehouse after passing out of committee in the Senate, but stalling in the Appropriations Committee.
Pro-life initiatives have always been at the forefront of the ICC’s priorities, and the last couple of years have seen significant strides in protecting the unborn in Indiana following the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of the Roe v. Wade decision in 2022. But Espada and Mingus emphasize that pro-life efforts involve numerous other issues, including the death penalty and assisted suicide – both of which the Catholic Church strongly opposes.
Assisted suicide is now legal in 10 states, and legislation has been introduced at the Statehouse numerous times over the years to allow the practice in Indiana. ICC leaders will continue monitoring developments on this issue.
“There are always bad bills that we oppose,” Mingus said. “Some of those will die quietly, and others make their way along the process and we have to be more active in our opposition. There are nearly 1,000 bills that will be filed in this session, so that’s a lot of review that we have to do, and a lot of discernment to prioritize what’s most important for the Church to speak on during a given session. We ask for everyone’s prayers as we discern these important matters.”
The ICC now has parish liaisons throughout Indiana to assist with communication and advocacy efforts but can always use more, Espada said. Information about the liaison role may be found on the ICC’s website. In addition, Espada and Mingus welcome the opportunity to visit parishes and schools to discuss their work.
“To amplify the voice of the Church, we need the interest and engagement of all Catholics in our state – particularly now, at the start of a new legislative session,” Espada said. “We thank all of those who have been active with our ICAN network in the past, and we look forward to welcoming many more to our efforts.”