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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Ind. Gov't. - More on "Local Communities Updating Ordinances In Response To RFRA"

Updating this ILB post from April 8th, Maureen Hayden, CNHI, reported April 13th for the Kokomo Tribune (here at IED):

INDIANAPOLIS — As legislators scrambled to respond to fallout from a divisive religious freedom law that critics said sanctioned discrimination, Republican activist Brent Kent went online to do some damage control of his own.

Kent launched a petition asking residents of his small hometown of Martinsville to push their elected leaders to adopt an anti-discrimination ordinance to protect gays and lesbians.

Within days, Martinsville Mayor Phil Deckard signed an executive order barring discrimination based on sexual orientation, as well as a City Council proclamation declaring the community open to all. That set into motion the work of drafting an expansive human rights ordinance.

The local Chamber of Commerce quickly posted the proclamation on its website.

If Martinsville adopts a human rights ordinance, as expected, it will join a growing number of communities that are moving to create or expand similar laws in the aftermath of the state's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act. * * *

Republicans who control the General Assembly have said they won't take up the issue until next year's legislative session, at the earliest.

So, the focus instead has turned to communities including Martinsville.

For decades, the southern Indiana city of 10,000 people was plagued with what Kent calls an unfair reputation as a closed, racist community. That stemmed from a 1960s murder of a young black woman and a complicated history with the Ku Klux Klan.

Kent was pleased by his city's reaction to the state's religious freedom law.

“It was an opportunity for the people of Martinsville to state and really re-state what’s important to them,” he said. “And it’s something the state of Indiana should have already done.”

The ACLU and Freedom Indiana are offering a legal “framework” for other cities, towns and counties to follow. Legal scholars say those efforts may be accelerated by the "fix" passed by lawmakers to quell controversy over the religious freedom act.

The Legislature's amendment said the new law cannot be used as protection against discrimination claims based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In essence, that carves out room for local ordinances that protect gay and transgender people from discrimination, said Indiana University law professor Robert Katz.

“But, at the state level, it’s still perfectly legal to discriminate against gays and lesbians in any context,” he said. * * *

After the religious freedom law passed, local officials across the state — Republican and Democrat — began re-examining what’s on their books.

Muncie was among the first to act. On April 6, its city council revised a non-discrimination ordinance to add protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. Existing rules cover race, religion and ethnicity.

The updated ordinance took effect the next day.

Terre Haute officials are looking at their 16-year-old human rights ordinance, which covers sexual orientation but lacks much enforcement power.

Jeff Lorick, executive director of the Terre Haute Human Relations Commission, would like to see that changed. An expanded ordinance could save the city money on potential lawsuits and make its citizens feel more valued, he said.

In conservative Martinsville, the mayor’s order not only bars the city from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity, it extends the same prohibition to vendors doing business with the city.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 14, 2015 01:04 PM
Posted to Indiana Government