By Victoria Arthur
Statehouse Correspondent for Indiana’s Catholic Newspapers
At the halfway point of the 2021 legislative session, the Indiana Catholic Conference and other allies are closely monitoring – and calling for public engagement on – important bills that continue to advance at the Statehouse.
Last week, the Indiana General Assembly reached what is known as crossover – the midway point of the session, during which bills that are still active move from one legislative chamber to the other. This is a long session of the legislature, held every other year and culminating in the passage of the state’s two-year budget.
A major proposal to expand school choice is among the measures the Indiana Catholic Conference and other advocates are tracking. House Bill 1005, which would extend the school voucher program to middle- and upper-middle-class families, and increase scholarship amounts for all students receiving vouchers, passed the House by a 61-38 vote. All of the Democrats in the chamber voted against the measure, along with nine Republicans.
Now that the bill has moved to the Senate, advocacy in favor of the measure will be critically important, according to John Elcesser, executive director of the Indiana Non-Public Education Association.
“It will be more of an uphill battle in the Senate, which isn’t as broadly supportive of all the expansions to school choice,” said Elcesser, whose organization represents Indiana’s more-than-400 non-public schools, including the state’s 175 Catholic schools. “Thus far, Senate lawmakers have pulled much of the choice language out of similar Senate bills with the idea of rolling it into the budget bill. It will take non-public-school stakeholders reaching out to their senators if we are to be successful.
“There is strong and vocal opposition to these efforts, and we have to provide the other side of the story if school choice expansion is going to find its way into law, whether it be in House Bill 1005 or in House Bill 1001, the budget bill.”
The ICC supports the legislation and encourages the Catholic faithful to contact their elected representatives on this and other matters important to the Church and the common good.
“At this critical point in the legislative session, there are bills that need to be supported, and bills that need to be defeated,” said Angela Espada, executive director of the ICC, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Indiana. “So we are asking everyone to make their voices heard.”
A significant pro-life bill is another measure that the ICC is watching closely. House Bill 1577, authored by Rep. Peggy Mayfield (R-Martinsville), would require abortion providers to offer additional information and resources to women who are considering abortion, including an ultrasound image of their unborn child.
The most intensely debated aspect of the bill involves providing women with information about possibly reversing a chemical, or medication, abortion. This method of abortion, which is reserved for use up to 10 weeks of pregnancy, involves the ingestion of two pills within a 24- to 48-hour period. Women sometimes change their minds after taking the first pill, mifepristone, and the legislation would require abortion providers to inform them about an option that could potentially save the unborn child – taking the hormone progesterone after that initial abortion pill is consumed.
The ICC provided testimony in favor of the bill during the House committee hearing.
“The Church consistently stands in firm support of pregnant women and their unborn children,” said Alexander Mingus, associate director of the ICC. “We believe this bill’s provisions align with the Church’s vision of the dignity of the human person. We also recognize that this legislation is just one piece that’s necessary as we advocate for the proper support, healthcare, spiritual care and tender concern for vulnerable women who face the daunting challenges of abortion.”
To follow priority legislation of the ICC, visit www.indianacc.org. This website includes access to I-CAN, the Indiana Catholic Action Network, which offers the Church’s position on key issues. Those who sign up for I-CAN receive alerts on legislation moving forward and ways to contact their elected representatives.