By Victoria Arthur
Statehouse Correspondent for Indiana’s Catholic Newspapers
A major pro-life victory was among the highlights of this year’s short session of the Indiana General Assembly, which concluded March 11.
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.”
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.
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.
The 2020 legislative session is Tebbe’s last with the ICC. He led the conference 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.
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. Legislators – Catholic and non-Catholic – recognize that we are a consistent moral voice, and we don’t have an ideological or party affiliation.”