INDIANAPOLIS (Nov. 17, 2015) – As Indiana lawmakers returned to work for Organization Day, Senate Republicans unveiled legislation that is meant to be seen as a compromise on one of the most controversial issues they’ll face next session.
The legislation, filed Tuesday as Senate Bill 100, would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, while exempting religious institutions and small businesses with fewer than four employees.
The outwardly public position for Senate Republicans comes as hundreds of Hoosiers on both sides of the issue rallied at the Statehouse.
“This bill is an attempt to balance civil rights and religious liberty,” said Senate President pro tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, at a late Tuesday news conference.
Still, the proposal is already drawing mixed reaction.
While there would be sexual orientation and gender identity protections for housing, employment and public accommodations- there would be numerous exemptions, including an exception for churches and religious universities, and for wedding services with less than four employees.
The measure would also replace any local ordinances dealing with civil rights- a number of which have just been passed in recent months.
“The state is basically taking charge and this would be the law of the land in state of Indiana,” said State Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, the bill’s author.
There would be a $1,000 penalty for any frivolous complaints, and transgender people would have to live as their preferred gender for one year or get a medical opinion before filing a complaint.
And schools and businesses would be allowed to set their own rules on dress codes and bathroom policies.
An official with Lambda Legal told the IndyStar the bill a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ and said it would serve as ‘a road map for discrimination against LGBT people’ instead of protecting them.
Senate Democrats are instead calling for full across the board protections without exception. Senate minority leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, announced his plans to file Senate Bill 2, which he called a simple, cleaner solution.
“The citizens of this state and other states and business inside and outside Indiana are watching to see what we do and they want to know will there be across the board protection and no license to discriminate,” said Lanane.
As lawmakers discussed their proposals Tuesday, protesters on both sides of the issued rallied at the Statehouse to make their voices heard.
“Somebody has to stand up for God’s rights and the Christian people,” Violet Hoffman said, who attended a rally organized by the Indiana Pastors Alliance.
The message preached urgency to stop any legislation that would expand protections for LGBT Hoosiers.
“We don’t want to persecute people, but we think when we start messing with marriage, then society breaks down,” Gloria Harrison said, who attended the rally.
Senate Republicans said their proposal filed Tuesday would act as a compromise, banning discrimination while protecting religious liberties in the wake of the fight over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act last session.
“They don’t need any complicated legislation with carve-outs that allow people to discriminate because they’re of this faith or that faith,” Robert Plank said, who attended a counter rally pushing for a clean addition to the civil rights code.
A rally organized by Freedom Indiana demanded sexual orientation and gender identity be added, no strings attached.
“Let me tell you,” Buffy Adams said. “The Jesus the other side is talking about, that’s not my Jesus. Jesus loves all.”
Republican leaders in both chambers said a delicate balance lies ahead.
“It’s not that people react to through bullying or blackmail, but we make the right choice for Hoosiers,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.
Ultimately any legislation must be signed by Gov. Mike Pence, who told FOX 59 yesterday, he hasn’t made up his mind.
“We just continue to listen very respectfully to all sides and study the issue very carefully,” Pence said in an interview. “We’ve come to no conclusion about what the best way forward is.”
Lawmakers return to the Statehouse for the start of the session in January.