Advocacy group also warns lawmakers drastic changes are needed to “fix” LGBT nondiscrimination legislation
INDIANAPOLIS — Freedom Indiana, the statewide grassroots organization fighting to update existing Indiana laws against discrimination to include gay and transgender people, today condemned Senate Bill 66 as a dangerous piece of legislation that would thrust the state back into the national spotlight created by last year’s Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and bring about even more legal and reputational challenges for the state.
“Senate Bill 66 is RFRA on steroids,” said Freedom Indiana campaign manager Chris Paulsen. “Not only would it reopen the national and international wounds caused by last year’s discriminatory RFRA legislation, it would make it easier to discriminate against any group currently or potentially protected under our civil rights law. Just when you thought lawmakers had learned a lesson from RFRA, a handful of them have decided to breathe life into a ‘Super RFRA.'”
Senate Bill 66 will be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee at 9 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Jan. 27. Senate Bills 100 and 344, which purport to address discrimination against gay and transgender people, will be heard in the Senate Rules Committee at 4 p.m. ET the same day.
Paulsen said the LGBT nondiscrimination bills need substantial improvement to create actual legal protections for gay and transgender people.
“Senate Bill 100 treats gay and transgender people as second-class citizens under existing civil rights law, and Senate Bill 344 doesn’t include transgender people at all,” she said. “Both bills also erode important protections that already exist in state law, making it easier to discriminate based on race, sex, and other characteristics. Lawmakers are trying to thread a political needle when they should be enacting real legal protections for the people who are most at-risk for being fired, denied housing or turned away from public places for being who they are.”
Freedom Indiana supporters will join others at the Statehouse this week urging the General Assembly to defeat the Super RFRA and make sure that any civil rights protections put in place to prevent discrimination against gay and transgender people truly accomplish that goal.
Recent polling has shown that 62 percent of Hoosiers want to see the civil rights law updated to ensure LGBT people do not face discrimination in housing, employment or public accommodation.
ABOUT SENATE BILL 66
Senate Bill 66 would enact a new RFRA and create sweeping exemptions that encourage people to pick and choose which laws they’re going to follow. Under the bill, government would have to meet a strict scrutiny standard for claimed impingements on the right to worship, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assemblage or the right to bear arms, making it easy for an individual or any business, no matter how large, to use RFRA to challenge any number of laws.
This would potentially affect not just existing and potential nondiscrimination protections, but it could be used to challenge tax and zoning statutes, public safety regulations and many other laws.
Even worse, Senate Bill 66 would repeal the RFRA “fix” that lawmakers passed last year following a firestorm of national negative publicity over the so-called “license to discriminate” against gay and transgender people. The fix, while imperfect, ensured that RFRA could not be used as a defense to a nondiscrimination claim. By repealing the fix, SB 66 would allow people and businesses to challenge longstanding state and local nondiscrimination laws.
ABOUT SENATE BILL 100
When it was introduced in November 2015, Indiana Senate Bill 100 was presented as a bill to add sexual orientation and gender identity protections to Indiana law, which gay and transgender Hoosiers urgently need. Unfortunately, the bill that was introduced provides little meaningful protection from discrimination for transgender people and includes damaging carve-outs and exemptions targeting all LGBT people in Indiana.
Senate Bill 100 would prohibit cities and towns from enforcing existing or adding meaningful local civil rights protections to achieve fair treatment of their residents and as an economic development tool.
Senate Bill 100 provides limited protections for discrimination based on gender identity, and creates very broad religious and services exemptions that would authorize discrimination against gay and transgender people and either erode or eliminate many longstanding protections under Indiana civil rights law for discrimination based on other currently protected characteristics, including race and sex.
For example, this bill could allow a homeless shelter that receives government funding to turn away a single mother or permit a religiously affiliated hospital to deny someone the ability to make medical decisions for a same-sex spouse.
The bill also includes steep financial penalties that make it harder for anyone to file a discrimination claim.
ABOUT SENATE BILL 344
Senate Bill 344 was introduced in January 2016 as an alternative to Senate Bill 100. They share the same authors in the Indiana Senate.
Senate Bill 344 includes many of the same problems outlined above, and it furthermore provides zero protections for the tens of thousands of transgender people in Indiana. It would instead refer the issue of transgender discrimination to a summer study committee, sending a message that discrimination against this population should remain legal.SHARE THIS STORY