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INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — State lawmakers begin the debate over civil rights protections for the LGBT community. They are looking at several bills considered as the “response” to last year’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the controversy, but these new bills have controversy of their own.
The Indiana Senate will begin the debate over two bills Wednesday afternoon. A third bill in the Senate, known as the “Super RFRA” bill will not advance in this legislative session after it was struck down by the Senate committee on Wednesday morning.
One bill would create LGBT protections state wide, similar to anti-discrimination protections already in place based on race, disability and age, but this bill would offer exemptions to small businesses and religious organizations. It would also trump city ordinances that may have stronger protections. Many cities passed ordinances last year following RFRA.
The second bill up for debate would allow cities to keep their ordinances, but the statewide protections would not include protections for transgender people.
Robert Katz, a law professor at IUPUI said the LGBT community will be better protected if state lawmakers do not do anything at all because these new city ordinances do the job.
“Unlike any of these proposed bills. They don’t have exemptions, potentially huge exemptions for religiously grounded discrimination for LGBT individuals,” Katz Law said. “You have all these counties and cities in indiana that have no civil rights protections for LGBT individuals. That’s better than a law that makes it worse for LGBT individuals by purporting to give them rights and then taking away them with all these religious exemptions.”
A third bill regarding LGBT rights, Senate Bill 66, will not advance. Freedom Indiana tweeted that the bill “is almost certainly dead for this legislative session.
In a statement the group said:
“Senate Bill 66 would have dealt a devastating blow to Indiana’s already damaged reputation. While we are pleased to see this discriminatory bill died a well deserved death, it’s important to remember that LGBT Hoosiers and visitors are still not protected from discrimination throughout most of the state. In fact, with the passage of last year’s religious exemption bill, it is still legal to fire someone, kick them out of their homes or deny them public services based solely on their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is wrong.
“Later this evening, the Senate Rules Committee will hear SB 100 and SB 344. While neither of these bills are where they need to be at this time, we hope the legislature will work with the business community and the vast majority of Hoosiers to advance equal protections for LGBT individuals.”
The bill would have essentially repeal RFRA, including the amendment put in place last spring. It would then replace RFRA with what some are calling a “Super RFRA” and permit even greater religious discrimination by businesses and social service agencies.
Many lawmakers have expressed their reservations about the bills and Governor Mike Pence has said he will not sign any bill that does not protect religious freedoms.
Freedom Indiana and Indiana Competes released a statement Wednesday concerning the bills.
“We stand together, as we have since the outset of this effort, to make it clear that our state must never again endure the economic and reputational harm caused by last year’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. There is no reason to have that debate again; the outcome can only be another disaster for our state and those who live, work and visit here.
“On the issue of updating our civil rights law to protect gay and transgender people, we are similarly in agreement: The solution is simple, yet lawmakers seem determined to complicate the matter.
“Lawmakers, over the past few decades, have banned discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation based on race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin or ancestry. Gay and transgender people should be protected in the same way.
“Members of the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committees, along with their colleagues in both chambers, have a tremendous opportunity today and this session to do the right thing for our economy and for our residents. We urge them to reject Senate Bill 66 and fix either Senate Bill 100 or 344 to include the transgender community and solve the problem of legal discrimination against LGBT people in our state.”