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Senate Democrats fight for choice and equality

Amendments are heard but defeated for SB 101 and 334

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Despite being outnumbered three-to-one, Indiana Senate Democrats tried to convince their Republican counterparts that two bills moving through the chamber open up Hoosiers to potential discrimination and limit their freedoms in terms of reproductive choice.

Senate Democratic leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, led his caucus as amendment after amendment was submitted to Senate Bills 101 and 334. With each amendment Democratic senators presented arguments, gave statistics, asked questions and pushed discussion. They also asked for roll call votes to let the records show exactly who sat on what side of the debate.

The end result was predictable. The Democratic effort fell on deaf Republican ears. But as a group the democrats planted their flag of equality and choice and fought anyway.

SB 101 Religious Freedom

Senate Bill 101, authored by Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, seeks to allow companies and institutions to observe religious beliefs without government getting involved. The measure inspired a heated debate in the Judiciary Committee earlier this month. Supporters say the legislation is needed to ensure those with strong religious beliefs aren’t forced to do something that goes against those beliefs. A Baptist minister testified that he is concerned he would be forced to perform a marriage ceremony for a same sex couple. Opponents say the bill gives people license to discriminate and is the direct result of the federal court’s ruling that ultimately granted marriage equality in Indiana.

The bill ultimately found its way out of committee and back to the full Senate where it was presented for a second reading Monday. Democrats continued to voice their opposition to the bill by offering a flurry of amendments to change it.

Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, first proposed an amendment that would change the definitions of who exactly would have religious freedom. The bill as written says a “person” has the rights to religious freedom, but defines a person as an individual; an organization, church, society, or group operating primarily for religious purposes; or a partnership, limited liability company, corporation, firm, society, joint-stock company, unincorporated association or any entity that can sue or be sued and exercises practices that are compelled or limited by a system of religious beliefs held by one or more individuals in control or ownership.

So, in other words, anyone or anything that holds to a religious conviction.

Despite Tallian’s plea that the bill reflect just the individual, Schneider claimed the bill is in line with federal law, specifically those definitions used by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby case challenging certain contraceptives in the Affordable Care Act, as well as the religious freedom restoration acts already passed in 19 other states.

Then Tallian stepped up her game by asking for an amendment that would make businesses and companies identify upfront if they were going to deny goods and services to a particular group so that patrons fitting that denied category weren’t embarrassed once rejected inside. Tallian gave the recent example out of Michigan where a pediatrician decided not to provide care to the daughter of a lesbian couple. The northern Indiana senator testified that the couple in question would have been saved a lot of heartache and hassle if they had known ahead of time that their sexual orientation was going to be a problem for the doctor they selected.

Tallian stepped it up a notch by suggesting businesses could put up signs illustrating who they would not serve. She held up a sign featuring the Star of David with a slash through it suggesting no service for Jewish people. Then Tallian presented a sign with a slash through an interracial couple. Finally, there was the slash through a rainbow, suggesting denial for the LGBT community. Although Tallian didn’t speak directing to the marks made on Jewish homes and businesses in Europe under Nazi rule or burning crosses on the lawns of African-American families, the sentiment was implied with her display of signage.

After Tallian was twice denied, Lanane called for an amendment that would specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. “Is this bill about sexual orientation or not?” asked Lanane, stating once again the point that had been brought up in committee — the bill is a direct response to marriage equality in the state. “After all,” said Lanane. “Indiana doesn’t have protections in its civil rights laws for sexual orientation.”

Neither does Michigan, which is why the recent incident involving a pediatrician is legal, albeit unfortunate.

Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, also testified reiterating the fact that Indiana’s civil rights laws don’t include sexual orientation. Taylor also pointed out that of the 19 states with religious freedom restoration on the books, most have sexual orientation protected as a group in civil rights legislation.

SB 334 Abortion prohibition based on gender or disability

After a hard fought (but losing) battle for equality, Senate Democrats went back to the mat with amendments, this time for a woman’s right to choose.

Senate Bill 334 would make it illegal for a woman to get an abortion based on the determined gender of the baby or a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome or any other disability.

It’s the last three words in that summary that is giving senators fits. However, Democrats found an ally in the GOP on this issue in Sen. Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville. Becker proposed removing the disability clause from the legislation. She presented information about extreme cases in which the child, if carried to term, only lives a few minutes, hours or days after birth. She also noted the cost.

“There are currently 4,000 Indiana residents on the waiting list for disability waivers,” declared Becker. “The Arc [of Indiana] is losing money.” She concluded with thoughts that if the state was going to burden families with carrying for a disabled child, the cost of that burden should be considered.

Becker tried to also change the language in the bill to reflect an increase in funding for services associated with the costs of caring for a special needs child. Her fellow Republicans quickly squashed that idea saying such a move would kill the bill because it would have to go back to another committee and there wasn’t enough time for that.

Democrats stressed the issues of personal choice in a difficult situation for families as well as the lack of funding flag. Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, said the state shouldn’t decide or judge a family’s choice. “The only ones that should be concerned with this type of difficult decision are the parents, the doctor involved on the case, and a spiritual advisor if the parents choose to have one.” Sen. Frank Mrvan, D-Hammond, echoed the same sentiment. “I don’t think we should be playing God and taking away decisions from parents,” testified Mrvan.

Sen. Frank Mrvan, D-Hammond, speaking on the Senate floor.
  • Sen. Frank Mrvan, D-Hammond, speaking on the Senate floor.

Lanane and Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, took up the funding flag or rather, lack thereof. “You can’t have it both ways,” said Lanane. He specifically asked Sen. Travis Holdeman, R-Markle, who authored the bill, if he had considered the associated costs or researched how much additional funding it would take for families or the state to take on the care of children with extreme disabilities. Holdeman admitted he hadn’t, but stated that a quick inquiry to the Family and Social Services Administration would answer any questions Lanane or other Democrats might have.

He also said considering the funding issue that this state would effectively kill the bill.

Stoops, however, said he had already done the research and the math, and presented in an amendment the monies needed to support Hoosier families. The needs ranged from First Steps to FSSA to education to Medicaid. His numbers reached well over $100 million. Holdeman again said any such amendment would “kill the bill.” Stoops said to not consider the resulting cost need associated with the bill was “irresponsible government.”

Senate Democrats put up a similar fight the following day when both bills were presented on 3rd reading. Senate Republicans ignored the additional pleas and passed both measures with ease.

Both bills will now be considered in the Indiana House.

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