Indiana lawmakers say federal court decisions could halt action on LGBT protections

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INDIANAPOLIS – A renewed debate faced a group of Indiana lawmakers Tuesday, packing a small committee room in the Statehouse where similar-sounding arguments have been made during the past two years.

“I pose no threat,” Korvin Bothwell said. “Transgender people pose no threat.”

The question still looming is whether lawmakers should add gender identity and sexual orientation protections to the state’s civil rights code.

A summer study committee heard about two hours of testimony, sometimes personal on both sides of the issue, from moms, dads and LGBT Hoosiers.

“I am a concerned mom of five children, including a transgender son,” Krisztina Inskeep said.  “Being transgender A is real, B it’s not a choice and C it affects thousands of Hoosiers.”

Lawmakers again heard the concerns from several major Indiana-based companies, including Cummins, Eli Lilly and CloudOne, along with representatives from the Indy Chamber and Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

“This is a financial issue for us,” Shannon Heider said, director of state government relations for Cummins. “We are a global company solving global problems, but our headquarters are here in Indiana.”

Heider said the company has lost “strong, high performing employees” who cited a negative perception toward the LGBT community in Indiana, since Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law.

“The very first question out of their VP was to ask what the hell is going on in Indiana?” John McDonald recalled being asked from a venture capital firm in Australia days after the law was signed, CEO of Fishers-based CloudOne.

Opponents spent a significant amount of their testimony Tuesday focused on new directives from President Obama’s administration related to the use of transgender bathrooms.

A federal judge in Texas has temporarily blocked the directive, which requires public school districts to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choosing, or face the loss of federal funding.

“Gender neutral bathrooms, gender neutral field trips, gender neutral showers became a haunting new reality for our students,” Monica Boyer said, a mother and president of the Indiana Liberty Coalition. “There’s a movement in our state to pass overreaching laws under the banner of political correctness.”

Lawmakers on the committee acknowledged the breadth of issues at hand.

“I don’t know how you separate some of those issues you heard testified today,” State Rep. Greg Steuerwald (R-Avon) said, chairman of the committee. “They’re extremely difficult, extremely fact-sensitive, very touchy.”

Steuerwald said Tuesday’s hearing was the only time committee members would consider the issue before the 2017 session, adding members may not even make a recommendation to the General Assembly, and instead advise lawmakers to wait on pending federal court action.

“I think each and every one of these issues is now working its way through the federal courts,” he said. “So we need to be aware of that.”

Another factor  supporters and opponents must wait on is the results from November’s election, the exact makeup of the General Assembly and whether Republican Eric Holcomb or Democrat John Gregg will be Indiana’s next governor.

FOX59 asked both Gregg and Holcomb whether they would sign into law legislation that added sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s civil rights code. Both campaigns released statements.

Holcomb’s communication director Pete Seat said:

"This particular issue will not be on Eric's legislative agenda, if he's honored to serve. If the issue is addressed by the General Assembly, however, Eric will approach it the way he approaches every issue. He will work closely with legislators and thoughtfully consider a bill that is consistent with his belief that we respectfully balance the interests of religious liberty and a zero tolerance policy for discrimination."

Gregg’s campaign spokesperson Jeff Harris said:

"As John Gregg has said throughout this campaign, he supports updating Indiana's civil rights laws to include LGBT Hoosiers and will work to repeal RFRA. Furthermore, as governor, he will sign an executive order extending these protections to state employees and contractors on day one.  Until this happens, Indiana's economy and reputation will continue to suffer."

Moving forward, lawmakers are unsure what if any legislation will come.

State Sen. Travis Holdman (R-Markle) said the testimony lawmakers heard Tuesday was nothing new, adding no one hinted at any room to compromise.

“No, I didn’t which is somewhat a disappointment,” Holdman said. “That nobody said here’s some middle ground, here’s compromise we can walk a path down the middle on the two sides of this issue.”

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