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Monday, April 06, 2015

Ind. Gov't. - Some articles on moving forward after the RFRA debacle [Updated]

"Postponing anti-discrimination debate risky" was the headline to Lesley Weidenbener's Sunday column in the Louisville Courier Journal. Some quotes:

The relief seemed almost palpable Thursday as the attacks on Indiana eased — but the break may be only temporary.

Analysis button in JPGRepublicans and some business leaders had struck a deal on a so-called fix for the divisive Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The goal was simple: Stop the bleeding.

And maybe the fix did that. But at best, it's only a bandage. Certainly, it fails to address the very thing that most of RFRA's critics were actually complaining about: Indiana law does nothing to protect people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender from discrimination.

That was the case before the legislature started down a road that led to economic upheaval, and it's the case now – save for the few communities in Indiana with local ordinances that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Until that changes, the state remains at risk of reprisal.

Instead, the fix — a sort of compromise between GOP legislative leaders and some in the business community — ensures only that RFRA can't be used as the reason a business or individual discriminates. And the change says that RFRA can't be used as a defense in a lawsuit or prosecution about discrimination.

It's a move that made religious conservatives angry because they believe it watered down the law, which likely speaks volumes about their original goals. Democrats and LGBT groups, meanwhile, say it doesn't go far enough. * * *

Certainly, the new language essentially wipes out the possibility that discrimination could result from RFRA. But that just means the state is back where it was before the session began. The fix did nothing to actually ensure that gays and lesbians are protected from discrimination.

And regardless of where you stand on that issue, it was at the center of the virulence directed during the past two weeks at Indiana, its people and its economy. If state leaders want to avoid a repeat of that outrage — and the business boycotts that came with it — the anti-discrimination debate seems a must.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said there's no time for it this session, which ends April 29. That's curious given how quickly lawmakers came up with their RFRA fix.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said the discussion about anti-discrimination legislation is likely next year. However, 2016 is an election year, which could make such a controversial debate too scary for lawmakers.

But if the past two weeks are any indication, it could be just as risky to ignore the issue – for the state's economy and maybe even for lawmakers at the ballot box.

In this Sunday story for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, Niki Kelly gives an in-depth history of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act both nationally, and in Indiana. She explains, for instance, that:
Indiana legislators had filed the bill multiple times here. Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Lizton, filed it every year from 1999 through 2004. But Democrats controlled the House chamber, and the bill never received a hearing.

Then in 2005, he filed it again. This time, Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma was in charge, but the bill didn’t move forward. So Thompson stopped filing it. No such legislation was filed by any Indiana lawmaker from 2006 through 2014.

The last four states adopted it since 2010, and the conversation shifted to religious liberty of the majority against government overreach. That also coincides with the rise of marriage equality; Indiana’s fight over gay marriage left a lot of hard feelings among social conservatives.

On April 2 Dave Bangert had a column in the Lafayette Journal & Courier titled: Only halfway there on RFRA fix: The General Assembly scrambled to save face on the religious freedom bill. Next up: Equal protection for gays and lesbians. It shouldn't be this hard.

[Updated] See also this strong weekend editorial from the Lafayette Journal & Courierheaded "After RFRA's supermajority debacle."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 6, 2015 10:06 AM
Posted to Indiana Government