BY BTL STAFF
UPDATED ON JAN. 27: This morning, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee did not have any testimony or votes on Senate Bill 66, also known as Super RFRA, which means the bill is dead for the legislative season.
The bill would have made it legal for any business or individual to ignore local laws that are already on the books to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals from discrimination.
Matt McTighe, executive director of Freedom for All Americans, released the following statement regarding today’s hearing:
“Senate Bill 66 would have dealt a devastating blow to Indiana’s already damaged reputation. While we are pleased to see this discriminatory bill died a well deserved death, it’s important to remember that LGBT Hoosiers and visitors are still not protected from discrimination throughout most of the state. In fact, with the passage of last year’s religious exemption bill, it is still legal to fire someone, kick them out of their homes or deny them public services based solely on their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is wrong.
“Later this evening, the Senate Rules Committee will hear SB 100 and SB 344. While neither of these bills are where they need to be at this time, we hope the legislature will work with the business community and the vast majority of Hoosiers to advance equal protections for LGBT individuals.”
The ACLU, Freedom Indiana and the HRC released statements about Indiana’s “super RFRA” being considered this week, expressing outrage at the state’s additional attempt to strip rights from LGBT residents of the state and more. Senate Bills 66, 100 and 344 will be heard Jan. 27; SB 66 will be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee and SB 100 and SB 344 will be heard in the Senate Rules Committee. An additional bill, Senate Bill 35, introduced by anti-LGBT Republican Sen. Jim Tomes, seeks to criminalize transgender people for using restrooms or locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.
“It’s unbelievable that some Indiana lawmakers are ignoring the incredible damage they inflicted on the state last year with their disastrous anti-LGBT religious refusal law,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “The new proposal is the old RFRA all over again. Lawmakers appear ready to put Indiana’s economy and reputation in reverse and floor it. I can’t imagine Hoosiers want to see their state make national headlines again for all the wrong reasons. This ‘super-RFRA’ is a dangerous attempt to allow people to use religion as an excuse to discriminate against LGBT Hoosiers, visitors and other minorities. By stripping away the limited buffer put in place last year, the legislators have made crystal clear their true intentions. Rather than trying to inflict even more damage and embarrassment on the state with this shameful legislation, lawmakers should fix the damage they caused by passing fully inclusive LGBT nondiscrimination protections to move Indiana forward.”
“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 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,” Paulsen added. “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.”
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.
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
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.
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.