INDIANAPOLIS (November 16, 2015) - Protesters on both sides are expected to be back at the Statehouse on Tuesday for Organization Day, setting the stage for the next round of talks in the battle over gay rights and religious freedom.
Legislative leaders unveiled some of their plans Monday on the issue, speaking at the Indiana Chamber’s 2016 legislative preview luncheon, where Senate president pro tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, announced a civil rights bill is already being worked on in the Senate.
While he wouldn’t give specifics, Long says the bill will get a hearing this year, but he also says the proposal could include more protections related to religious freedom.
“I can just tell you there will be strong language in there for both civil rights and for religious freedom,” said Long. “We’ll just leave it at that… there are some final changes being made.”
Long said Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, would author the bill, which could be filed as soon as Tuesday.
A social conservative who has authored religious freedom legislation in the past, Holdman’s involvement could indeed signal an emphasis on religious protections as part of the new proposal.
Still, Democrats said they preferred a simple ‘four word’ solution that adds full protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.
“We don’t believe that your religious beliefs should allow you to discriminate,” said State Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis.
“I think the simplest thing for everyone is to put this behind Indiana, to demonstrate to rest of the nation and world that we’re welcoming, tolerating accepting and loving of everybody,” said House minority leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City.
“This is clearly the toughest issue of the session, maybe of our careers,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.
Certainly it's been a tough issue for Gov. Mike Pence, who spoke with FOX59 on Monday.
“We just continue to listen very respectfully to all sides and study the issue very carefully, but we've come to no conclusion about what the best way forward is,” said Pence.
Meantime, Bosma reiterated a statement he first made in an interview that aired on this week's edition of FOX59 IN Focus.
“I’m going to be very clear on this Tuesday,” said Bosma. “We’re not going to be blackmailed by national public interests to take action on protected class status… if Hoosier elected officials want to do it we will and if they don’t, we won’t.”
Despite concerns from conservative lobbying groups about a rushed decision on Organization Day, the Speaker told FOX59 there would be no such 'sneak attack,' as such a move has been described by Advance America's Eric Miller.
Legislative leaders have promised no action would be taken on the bill Tuesday, and Long said the bill would get a hearing as part of the normal legislative process.
"This is an important issue," said Bosma. "It deserves discussion and thorough Democratic discussion... It's not going to be easy."
On this week's edition of IN Focus, Bosma also said he was surprised by the controversy over last year's religious freedom bill, but said he was glad to support a bill known as the 'fix' which clarified the bill would not supersede local non-discrimination ordinances, or be used as a defense for discrimination.
Still, Bosma said he's standing his ground, and promises he won't pressured by national lobbying organizations pushing for full protections.
Earlier in the week, House minority leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said he felt there were enough votes to pass full protections on the House floor, but Bosma said he wasn't so sure.
Pelath also made news last week when he unveiled the Democrats' plan to fund road improvements in Indiana.
The $2 billion proposal would mandate every dollar collected from Indiana’s sales tax on gasoline be set aside to fix roads. Currently a vast majority goes into the state’s general fund.
“What the people of Indiana don’t know, and one of the reasons the roads are in bad shape, is because when they pay at the pump those dollars are not going to where they belong,” said Pelath. “This is the fundamental and number one economic issue our state needs to address in the upcoming session.”
Republicans were quick to criticize the plan.
On Monday, Bosma said transportation funding would his top priority in the coming year, as part of House Bill 1001.
Bosma said his agenda for the coming year would also involved fighting meth, and dealing with the state's teacher shortage.