Neither advocates nor opponents appeared to be pleased following the advancement by a senate panel Wednesday of a heavily amended civil rights bill in Indiana protecting gay, lesbian, and bisexual Hoosiers. The bill excluded transgender Hoosiers entirely and carried a broad religious exemption. It now goes to the full senate.
Here’s a timeline liveblog of yesterday’s contentious debate.
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.
The measure passed the Senate Rules Committee, 7-5, with only Republicans, including state Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, voting in favor. State Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, and all Democrats were opposed, including state Sens. Jim Arnold, D-LaPorte, and Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes.
It now goes to the full, Republican-controlled Senate for an expected vote next week on whether to advance it to the Republican-controlled House.
A second bill, SB 100, which invites businesses and employers to discriminate against LGBT people, by allowing them to create separate dress codes and restroom rules for their LGBT employees and forces transgender people to use a restroom or wear clothing that doesn’t match their gender, was not voted on.
Watch a news report on SB 344’s passage:
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.”
The bill did repeal the horrific Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed last year as well as the “fix” pushed by Governor Mike Pence:
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.
But in terms of religious exemptions, many were added, including adoption and crisis pregnancy centers as well as faith-based groups not associated with specific houses of worship, like homeless shelters.
Earlier in the day, a ‘Super RFRA’ bill failed to advance out of the senate committee.
Watch a report on the failure of that bill:
LGBT groups were outraged about SB 344 and have called an “all hands on deck” to stop it:
Wrote Lambda Legal in a press release:
“Senate Bill 344 provides such a broad license to discriminate based on religion that it is nothing short of a Super RFRA,” said Camilla Taylor, Counsel in the Midwest Regional Office of Lambda Legal. “This bill also does not even pretend to protect transgender Hoosiers, excluding them entirely, which is completely unacceptable. The sheep’s clothing barely covers the wolf. Like last spring, we need all hands on deck. As written, SB 344 is designed to hurt LGBT people in Indiana. Anyone who supports this bill doesn’t have the best interests of the LGBT community in mind.”
“Allowing this bill to take even one step forward is an appalling mistake and a betrayal of all Hoosiers,” said Taylor. “Legalizing discrimination robs Indiana of business and opportunity, and worsens the state’s already muddied reputation. We are just starting to understand the extent of the damage caused by last year’s RFRA, which according to media reports cost the City of Indianapolis an estimated $60M in lost opportunities. It is clear that Indiana hasn’t bounced back from last year’s fight–far from it. The Governor can claim that Indiana is a welcoming state, but businesses clearly know better because they are choosing to set up shop elsewhere.”
Senate Bill 344 extends very limited civil rights to lesbian and gay people in employment, housing and public accommodations but the bill also includes broad religious exemptions that give businesses and publicly funded social service agencies legal permission to discriminate against LGBT people in Indiana. Furthermore, SB 344 completely excludes any protection for people who are transgender. The Senate Committee rejected an amendment proposed by Senator Lanane that would have eliminated these damaging religious exemptions and would have provided protection from discrimination to transgender people. Among the amendments accepted to SB 344 was an amendment to allow anti-abortion organizations to exclude lesbian and gay people. Another would allow nonprofit organizations, with no affiliation to a church or faith, to discriminate if they offer religious-centered programs, even if they receive state-funding. The last amendment repeals both the RFRA passed last year, and the “fix,” which prevented the RFRA from being used as a defense to discrimination claims, and replaced it with a standard favoring religious defenses to discrimination claims.
HRC slammed it:
“Once again, Indiana lawmakers are trying to pass a bill that unacceptably leaves LGBT Hoosiers at continued risk of discrimination, and now even includes dangerous RFRA-like language attached as an amendment that strips away last year’s so-called ‘fix’,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “S.B. 344 is deeply flawed across a number of areas, but most importantly, it would leave transgender Hoosiers behind. With the new amendment attached, it could now also allow anyone to wield religion as a sword of discrimination. We implore the Indiana Legislature to abandon this dangerous legislation, and instead seek to pass fully inclusive non-discrimination protections that would truly safeguard LGBT Hoosiers and visitors from discrimination.”
Freedom Indiana campaign manager Chris Paulsen made their feelings known:
“Lawmakers still aren’t listening. Tonight, they took a bad bill and made it worse for LGBT people in our state who have to live each day in fear that they could be fired, denied housing or turned away from a public place for who they are.
“Senate Bill 344 continues to fall far short of ending legal discrimination against LGBT people in our state. As amended, it repeals the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act but replaces it with substandard protections that omit transgender people entirely and provide religious carveouts that undermine the very purpose of the civil rights law. We will continue to work with lawmakers to fix this bill, but we are disappointed that they have not made the substantive changes we know a majority of Hoosiers want to make our state open and welcoming to all people.”