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By Dan Carden
INDIANAPOLIS — Two Indiana Senate committees are set Wednesday to act on three proposals aimed at resolving the ongoing debate over LGBT civil rights protections and religious freedom concerns.
None of the measures is the four-words-and-a-comma solution touted by Freedom Indiana, Indiana Competes or the other business and community organizations pushing to add “sexual orientation, gender identity” to the seven classes already protected under state civil rights statutes. The protected classes are: race, religion, color, sex, national origin, disability and age.
Instead, two of the proposals (Senate Bills 100 and 344) offer some anti-discrimination provisions for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Hoosiers, but with numerous exceptions for religion-affiliated organizations and many wedding-related businesses.
In addition, Senate Bill 100 repeals local LGBT anti-discrimination ordinances and punishes any frivolous discrimination claim by a $1,000 fine. It also permits the state to award contracts to businesses that require workers to live by a religious-inspired code of conduct.
Senate Bill 344 excludes gender identity from its LGBT anti-discrimination protections and directs a legislative study committee review transgender discrimination issues. Local governments with ordinances guaranteeing civil rights to transgender Hoosiers could keep them, but no other communities could enact one.
The Senate Rules Committee, which includes state Sens. Jim Arnold, D-LaPorte, Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, and Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, will evaluate and consider changes to both of those measures starting at 3 p.m. Region time.
Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, the Rules Committee chairman, said the proposals, sponsored by state Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, will get a “full public debate,” but still could be amended by the panel before any vote to advance them to the 50-member, Republican-controlled Senate.
“I believe this is an important discussion for our state to have, but there’s no denying that it is a difficult one,” Long said. “Sen. Holdman’s legislation will help provide a framework for that discussion.”
The third proposal, Senate Bill 66, actually repeals the minimal LGBT protections against discrimination that were enacted last year as part of the “fix” to the nationally controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which also would be repealed.
This so-called “Super RFRA” proposal, sponsored by state Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, also declares that protections for freedom of religion, speech, assembly and the right to bear arms, as provided by the Indiana Constitution, are fundamental rights and only can be infringed by the state through the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest.
However, unlike RFRA, it does not spell out exceptions or defenses, leaving courts to determine whether any law runs afoul of the strict scrutiny required by the legislation.
Chris Paulsen, campaign manager for Freedom Indiana, said the state risks once again damaging its already battered reputation as a welcoming place if Super RFRA becomes law.
“Senate Bill 66 is RFRA on steroids,” Paulsen said.
“Not only would it reopen the national and international wounds caused by last year’s discriminatory RFRA legislation, it (also) would make it easier to discriminate against any group currently or potentially protected under our civil rights law.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee, which is led by Young and includes state Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, will begin deciding at 8 a.m. Region time whether to advance that legislation to the full chamber.
Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, said earlier this month he is not certain it is possible, or even necessary, for the Legislature to try to reconcile LGBT anti-discrimination protections and religious liberty.
In any case, he said he will not sign any civil rights legislation that lacks significant exceptions for individuals or organizations that could be classified as religious.
“I will not support any bill that diminishes the religious freedom of Hoosiers or interferes with the constitutional rights of our citizens to live out their beliefs in worship, service or work,” Pence said.SHARE THIS STORY