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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Ind. Gov't. - "Discord ongoing over LGBT bill"

The revised text of the SB 344, reflecting last evening's amendments, will not be available until later today. [Updated at 5:28 PM] Here is the adopted committee report with the amendments made last evening.

Some quotes from Niki Kelly's story today in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette:

Pretty much no one got what they wanted late Wednesday when the Senate Rules Committee voted 7-5 to pass a bill providing limited discrimination protections to gay, lesbian and bisexual Hoosiers.

Democrats said Senate Bill 344 is unacceptable because it leaves transgender citizens out of the bill entirely and provides too many exemptions for Hoosiers to deny service in the name of faith.

But social conservatives argued it goes too far elevating sexual orientation to protected-class status and sets up Hoosier businesses to be fined and sued for standing by religious beliefs.

Republicans on the committee voted in support – except Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn – to keep the process moving, but many are looking for changes.

“It’s a tough issue. It’s remarkable that we are even having this discussion,” said Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne.

He also noted that there will be robust debate on the Senate floor and the bill’s “fate is unknown.”

About 40 people testified on the legislation over four hours. * * *

[One speaker said] exemptions in the bill should not be any broader than they are for race and other protected categories, such as gender and national origin.

But the current bill does just that, carving out cases in which small businesses – those with fewer than six employees – can legally refuse to provide services related to the solemnization, rehearsal, reception, celebration or social event for a marriage ceremony, renewal of marriage vows or marriage anniversary.

The author, Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, said this is a way to recognize Indiana’s strong freedom of conscience and religious liberty protections.

Opponents of the legislation flew in two business owners from Oregon and Washington who have violated anti-discrimination laws by refusing to provide flowers or cake for a same-sex marriage. * * *

Indiana law doesn’t provide anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation or gender identity the way it does for other classes such as gender, race and national origin.

That means in much of the state, landlords, employers and businesses are free to openly discriminate against gays.

There are more than a dozen cities – including Fort Wayne – with local protections, though they vary in scope and enforcement. The bill would leave in place those local human rights ordinances passed before Jan. 1.

“You can say ‘you’re gay. You’re fired,’ ” Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar said. “That’s wrong.”

He supports a stronger bill due to the profound and ongoing impact on the state’s ability to attract jobs, investment and skilled workers as a result of last year’s national firestorm over religious rights. But he said this version is a step in the right direction.

Eric Miller, who heads the religious-based Advance America, said it is impossible for legislators to both protect faith and extend civil rights to LGBT Hoosiers.

“A vote for this bill is a vote against religious liberty,” he said.

The panel also threw a curve­ball into the mix by adding an amendment to eliminate the state Religious Freedom Restoration Act – and its fix – passed last year.

Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, said the language essentially reverts Indiana back to the previous status before the RFRA fight. Specifically, it codifies a legal standard the Indiana Supreme Court made precedent in 2001 protecting religious freedom.

Democrats supported that amendment but all voted against the bill.

“We can’t send a message that we only allow a little discrimination,” said Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson.

Tony Cook, Chelsea Schneider and Stephanie Wang of the Indianapolis Star report:
A bill that would provide some protections for lesbians, gays and bisexuals — but not transgender Hoosiers — squeaked out of an Indiana Senate committee Wednesday night.

But no one on any side of the highly contentious debate seems particularly pleased with the heavily amended measure, which faces an uncertain future as it heads to the full Senate for more heated wrangling early next week.

Democrats slammed the measure, Senate Bill 344, for excluding transgender Hoosiers and even the seven GOP lawmakers who voted for it expressed reservations.

"It is going to go to the floor of the Senate where there will be a robust debate and its fate is unknown," Senate President Pro Tempore David Long said. "We don’t know what will be the outcome, but we’ll have the discussion and we’ll see where it goes."

Several lawmakers said their votes represented an effort to continue the conversation about gay rights — not necessarily support for the current proposal. * * *

During the hearing, lawmakers surprisingly added to the bill a repeal of last year's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the "fix" that quickly followed it.

If adopted, the changes would make Indiana the first state in the nation to repeal a RFRA law, according to one legal scholar. It also would represent a stunning reversal for leaders of the Republican-controlled Senate, who pushed hard to pass RFRA despite concerns that it could allow businesses to discriminate against same-sex couples.

Long and his fellow Republicans made it clear they want to put the negative perceptions created by the RFRA furor behind them. But impassioned testimony during the five-hour hearing also made it clear that the political atmosphere is still clouded by extreme feelings and fears on both sides.

Republican committee members also added adoption and crisis pregnancy centers to the list of organizations and businesses that would still be allowed to discriminate against LGBT people under the proposal. Another change would also allow faith-based groups, such as homeless shelters, to discriminate even if they aren't affiliated with a church.

Democrats objected to those carve-outs.

“Once we create loopholes, people take advantage of them," Senate Minority Leader Timothy Lanane, D-Anderson, said.

The bill already had allowed small wedding service providers and religious-affiliated organizations to discriminate against gays and lesbians. But it also adds sexual orientation to Indiana's civil rights laws, protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. * * *

Scott McCorkle, CEO of Salesforce Marketing Cloud, said SB 344 is unacceptable because it leaves out protections for transgender individuals. McCorkle said that repealing RFRA reopens much of the arguments of last year’s debate.

“Therefore I speak to you today with grave concerns about the economic future of our state,” he said.

McCorkle said Indiana is still “reeling” from the damage he feels was caused by RFRA, and that he supported the “fix” to ensure the law couldn’t be used to discriminate against individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

He said repealing RFRA and the subsequent “fix” threatens to “take us back to that dark moment in Indiana history."

Transgender military veteran Rhiannon Carlson asked lawmakers to include protections for transgender people.

Dan Carden of the NWI Times writes:
An Indiana Senate committee approved legislation Wednesday night providing civil rights protections to lesbian, gay and bisexual Hoosiers, tempered with a broad exemption for nearly any entity claiming a religious affiliation.

Senate Bill 344 also intentionally excludes transgender Hoosiers from its anti-discrimination provisions, leaving thousands of Indiana residents vulnerable to losing their jobs, homes or being denied service in a restaurant or other business open to the public. * * *

Committee members spent more than 90 minutes tinkering with specific details of the legislation before settling on a final version and considering some three hours of public testimony.

The plan adds sexual orientation, veteran status and active-duty military status to the seven classes — race, religion, color, sex, national origin, disability and age — already specifically protected under Indiana law against discrimination in housing, education, employment and access to public accommodations.

Religion-affiliated organizations, including churches, adoption agencies, day care programs, schools, clergy and any other nonprofit that offers religious-centered programs, as well as most wedding service providers, could still discriminate based on sexual orientation by claiming sincerely held religious beliefs.

State Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, sponsor of the legislation, also persuaded the panel to specifically authorize anti-abortion organizations and crisis pregnancy centers to continue discriminating against homosexuals if they choose.

In addition, the measure lifts a state ban on contracting with businesses and other entities that favor hiring members of a specific religious group, as permitted by federal law, or requires their employees follow a religion-inspired code of conduct.

It also repeals the 2015 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, including the "fix" that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and replaces it with a direction to the Indiana Supreme Court that religious liberty should be strongly favored in any case involving the constitutionally protected right.

A similar proposal, Senate Bill 66, known as "Super RFRA," which would have declared freedom of religion, speech, assembly and the right to bear arms only can be infringed by the state through the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest, failed to advance out of a separate committee Wednesday.

Finally, the legislation requires a General Assembly study committee this summer review issues relating to gender identity discrimination for possible action by lawmakers in 2017.

Holdman said it was challenging for him as a conservative, evangelical Christian to figure out the appropriate balance between anti-discrimination protections and religious freedom. He pronounced himself satisfied with the committee-approved proposal.

Most Hoosiers testifying to the committee were less satisfied, and opposition to the measure produced some odd political bedfellows.

For example, both Curt Smith, head of the Indiana Family Institute, and Chris Paulsen, of Freedom Indiana, urged lawmakers to reject the proposal.

Smith because it provides sexual orientation protections; Paulsen because it excludes gender identity.

Business leaders, including Kevin Brinegar of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and Scott McCorkle of Salesforce, declared the proposal a good start, but ultimately unacceptable because it diminishes Indiana's welcoming reputation by continuing to permit some discrimination.

The committee rejected a proposal that it simply add "sexual orientation, gender identity" to the civil rights statutes without any exceptions.

[Updated 1/289/16] Here is Hayleigh Colombo's long IBJ story on Wednesday's committee hearing.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 28, 2016 08:48 AM
Posted to Indiana Government