Ind. lawmakers work to clarify ‘religious freedom’ law – USA TODAY
INDIANAPOLIS — Republican leaders in the Indiana General Assembly said Monday they are looking at options to clarify the state’s controversial religious freedom law, though they don’t believe the law would allow discrimination against gays and lesbians as opponents fear.
House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long made their comments at a Statehouse news conference to address a national firestorm over the law that has prompted some convention organizers and businesses to stall events or planned expansions in the state over concerns about discrimination.
“To the extent that we need to clarify through legislative action that this law does not and will not be allowed to discriminate against anyone, we will do just that,” Long said.
Bosma added, “To the extent that might be the effect of the bill, we are prepared to encourage our legislative colleagues to take immediate action.”
But what exactly they are proposing remained unclear. They said they are in talks with the governor’s office about possible language, but that a repeal of the bill is unlikely.
“The removal of the specter of RFRA being a defense to a claim that services were denied may be one approach,” Bosma said.
He said Republicans in both the House and Senate need to be consulted before details can be ironed out.
Indiana Sen. Minority Leader Tim Lanane, and Scott Pelath, Minority Leader of the Ind. House of Representatives, suggest a repeal of Indiana’s newly signed RFRA law, Indiana Statehouse, Indianapolis, Monday, March 30, 2015. Robert Scheer / The Scheer
Their news conference came just 24 hours after Gov. Mike Pence appeared on ABC’s “This Week.” Host George Stephanopoulos asked Pence six times whether the new law would allow a business to discriminate against gay couples. Pence ducked the question each time, saying only that he believes in protecting the religious freedoms of all Hoosiers.
Bosma said “the fact that he did not answer questions clearly” was part of the reason for Monday’s news conference.
“I think it raised the specter that (discrimination) was the effect or the intent, and that’s why we’re standing here today,” he said.
But even as they announced plans to clarify the law, Bosma and Long defended it in its current form.
“At no time in the history of this law has it ever been allowed to discriminate against anyone,” Long said.
In Arkansas, controversy is brewing as a similar law wends its way through the legislative process.
The bill was approved by the state Senate on Friday. On Monday morning, it passed concurred amendments at a House Committee discussion and will now head to the full House.
If approved by the House, Gov. Hutchinson said he plans to sign it into law.
A small group of protesters gathered at the Governor’s Mansion on Monday in an attempt to persuade Hutchinson not to sign the bill.
Under Senate Enrolled Act 101, signed by Pence in a private Statehouse ceremony Thursday morning, the state and local governments are prohibited from substantially burdening a person’s ability to exercise his or her religion — unless the government can show that it has a compelling interest and that the action is the least restrictive means of achieving it.
The bill, which goes into effect July 1, does not mention sexual orientation, but opponents fear it could allow business owners to deny services to gays and lesbians for religious reasons.
With the signing, Indiana became the 20th state in the nation to adopt such legislation. It is modeled on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which President Bill Clinton signed in 1993.
But Indiana’s proposal was met with swift and harsh criticism.
The mayors of San Francisco and Seattle have banned all city-funded trips to Indiana. San Francisco State University President Leslie E. Wong on Monday said the university won’t pay for students or employees to travel to Indiana, saying it would be “unconscionable” for the university “to spend its resources in a state that attempts to legislate discrimination of any kind. Wong also said he would skip a required NCAA Division II President’s Council meeting in Indianapolis next month.
Salesforce.com founder and CEO Marc Benioff announced on Twitter that the company would no longer send employees or customers to Indiana.
Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle said he will cancel the company’s plans for a $40 million expansion of its Eastside headquarters because of his opposition to RFRA.
And on Saturday, thousands of people attended an anti-RFRA rally in Downtown Indianapolis and chanted “no hate in our state” as they marched from Monument Circle to the Indiana Statehouse.
“The fact is we’ve been embarrassed before the nation,” said House Minority Leader Scott Pelath in response to Monday’s GOP news conference.
He and Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane called for immediate repeal of the measure, and for a new state law that would protect people from discrimination based on sexual orientation.
But Republican lawmakers, who make up supermajorities in both chambers, have rejected those efforts in recent weeks.