INDIANAPOLIS – A comprehensive statewide smoke-free air law, expansion of Medicaid, opposition to a bill on immigration and increases for private school tax credits are the legislative priorities for members of the Indiana Conference Social Advocacy, Justice and Ethnic Ministries Team. They set the four legislative priorities Jan. 29 during a regular meeting of the team.

The advocacy team endorsed the following legislative agenda for the 2011 Indiana General Assembly, including:

  • Support for a smoking ban in public places (House Bill 1018) – This year 10,000 Hoosiers will die from tobacco use and an equal number of children will become addicted to smoking. Indiana has one of the highest rates of adult smoking in the nation (23 percent of the population), costing Hoosiers more than $2 billion a year in tobacco-related health care costs (including $487 million from the state Medicaid program). HB 1018 passed the House but with exemptions for casinos, bars, private clubs and nursing homes. The Social Advocacy Team recommends supporting the bill without exemptions as the bill moves to the Senate for consideration. (See United Methodist Social Principles* ¶162.M.)
  • Support the expansion of Medicaid coverage for outpatient mental health services (HB 1414, House Committee on Public Health) – Currently, Medicaid in Indiana covers only in-patient care for mental health services. This bill will allow Medicaid to cover outpatient services, which will provide mental health consumers greater access to forms of care, which can prevent more costly forms of treatment and intervention. (See Social Principles* ¶162.V; 2008 UM Book of Resolutions #3201.)
  • Oppose an Arizona-style bill on immigration (Senate Bill 590, Senate Committee on Pensions and Labor) –This bill calls for changes to the law concerning the enforcement of federal immigration laws, including: checking the citizenship or immigration status of individuals; requiring that only English be used, with certain exceptions, in public meetings and public documents; requiring law enforcement officers to verify the citizenship or immigration status of individuals and allowing them to arrest the person; and suspending or revoking business licenses of employers who knowingly employ undocumented workers. The Social Advocacy Team is opposed to SB 590, because it oversteps the authority of the State in the enforcement of Federal immigration law, placing business owners and law enforcement officers in the impossible situations that would lead to racial profiling and fostering a climate of fear and prejudice against immigrants and ethnic minorities in our state. (See Social Principles* ¶162.H, ¶163.F; 2008 UM Book of Resolutions #3281, 3283, 3378, 5081.)
  • Oppose increases for private school tax credits (HB 1003, House Committee on Education) – Currently, Indiana allows families whose children receive scholarships to private schools to receive a tax credit. The increase in these ‘scholarship vouchers’ will give families that earn up to 250 percent of the poverty level (more than $100,000) an additional $10 million in tax credits. The Social Advocacy Team opposes this bill, because the program does not adequately ensure that scholarships are used by schools with adequate academic standards and accreditation, and it raises concerns about the separation of church and state. (See Social Principles* ¶164.C & E; 2008 UMBook of Resolutions #5051.)

Contact your state legislators regarding these bills. You can find your representative or senator at www.in.gov/legislative. Click on “Who’s your Legislator.” For more information on these legislative initiatives, contact the Rev. Darren Cushman Wood, convener of the Indiana Conference Social Advocacy, Justice and Ethnic Ministries Team at dcushwood@speedway-umc.org.  

*The United Methodist Social Principles can be found online at www.umc-gbcs.org. Click on “Leadership Development,” then click on “The Social Principles.”