• Governor's disconnect is bad for Indiana

    Barely a week after the passage of SB 101, the state legislature and Governor Mike Pence hastily added new language to outline certain (but not total) legal rights related to sexual orientation (the reception to the fix among LGBT rights groups has been pretty tepid). But that was after the state received tremendous blowback from all but the most lockstep members of the political right, and our governor entered the national spotlight somewhere between a villain and a laughingstock.

    This isn’t the first time Pence has been on the national stage in a less-than-stellar fashion. Earlier this year was the short but notable saga of Just IN. We’ll never know if it was, as Pence claimed, simply a press release site rather than a state news source. Even if it was, though, the glaring obviousness of its negative reception highlights a sort of disconnect shown by this Governorship.

    If that disconnect went no further than a boneheaded PR snafu, it would be forgivable. But it’s manifested in other ways that maybe haven’t gotten the national media’s attention, and are no laughing matter at all.

    After the Mitch Daniels era, state taxes were very low, so low that both parties seemed to agree more revenues were needed. Yet one of Pence’s first acts as Governor was another tax cut. Another thing on which both parties seem to be in agreement was that public education funding is too low. Instead, Pence still focuses on charter schools, clashes with Glenda Ritz at every turn, and dropped Common Core without much of a plan for what would replace it.

    Simply put, Pence seems to be more of an ideologue than an effective governor. The cynical speculation is that he’s getting in good graces with a narrow sector of the conservative base so he can run for President (an idea that, if it were a longshot before, seems like an impossibility now). But maybe he truly believes in every decision he’s made. Unfortunately, that ideology is clashing pretty starkly with the reality of what’s happening in his state.

    Fortunately, a few recent events have bridged that disconnect. Even if his fix for SB 101 may not be perfect, he at least heard everybody and was driven to do something. Also, in relation to the HIV outbreak downstate in Austin, he’s swallowed his political views on anti-drug measures and approved a needle exchange, which seems to be the right thing to do.

    These were both extreme instances that were too obvious to ignore, but nevertheless, they still poked holes in the ideological bubble in which our Governor seems to reside.

  • RFRA by another name

    The week before Thanksgiving, Indiana Senate Republicans introduced a bill aimed at expanding LGBT protections in the state. Or so they say.

    Senate Bill 100 does, in fact, add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s non-discrimination laws. However, the bill has many exemptions that remove much of its teeth.

    Religious organizations—including charities, schools, and adoption agencies—are still allowed to refuse service to LGBT people. All businesses with fewer than four employees can also refuse on religious grounds to provide services related to marriages to same-sex couples. In addition, public and private organizations are able to determine their own restroom policies, specifically as they pertain to transgender people. And localities within the state cannot pass any further protections.

    When you actually read it, this bill doesn’t seem much different than RFRA.

    Proponents of this law and RFRA before it claim this is about preserving religious freedom, not antigay discrimination. To put that claim to the test, let’s compare it to protections against other forms of discrimination.

    I’ve stated before how the Civil Rights Act doesn’t mention LGBT protections, but it does contain an exemption for religious organizations. However, it only stipulates that religious organizations have a right to only hire a follower of their religion if the nature of the job demands it. They still cannot discriminate based on race, nationality, or gender, in hiring practices or providing services.

    If sexual orientation or gender identity are truly equally protected, they would be subject to those same terms, without exemption. Anything less is de facto legalized discrimination.

  • SB 101: Economic Unrest?

    The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of Indiana was recently signed into law by Governor Pence. We all know what it is. It has scrutinized and discussed before it was even signed, but what does it mean for Indiana startups and businesses? A number of companies have said they will stop unnecessary travel to Indiana and pull investments from the state because of the RFRA.

    For companies that are considering moving their operations out of Indiana, they don’t have to look far for viable locations. Especially here in Northwest Indiana. Newly elected Illinois Governor Rauner has been quoted as saying he would like to “try and rip the economic guts out of Indiana”. But Illinois and Indiana’s rivalry is nothing new. Indiana’s ‘Stillannoyed’ campaign is barely even a year old now.

    But now the question is: Will businesses begin to relocate?

    I highly doubt that it will be the sole reason for a business moving out of Indiana.

    Indiana should be crafting bills that give businesses reasons to stay and attracting new ones to the state.

    Where I think this could really hurt is when it comes to investments from outside of the state. The black eye that Indiana got from the recent news cycle following the signing of the RFRA was brutal. There was backlash from global companies like Apple and Salesforce. When a company is thinking about investing in Indiana, the recent negative news headlines will unfortunately come to mind. Companies will be asking why they would want to invest in a state that is perceived to be behind the times.

    Instead of introducing and passing bills that create disconnects with segments of the population, Governor Pence should be doing more to make everyone feel welcomed in the Hoosier state. Because if it doesn't welcome everyone, states that border Indiana will definitely point that out and welcome them with open arms. Especially when it comes to businesses and investments.

  • Supreme Court Cases of Interest in the Wake of SB 101

    It’s been less than a week since the passage of Senate Bill 101, and the outcry hasn’t abated. The local and national reaction has been almost uniformly negative, and talks of boycotting the state seem to be getting bigger by the day.

    I said my piece about the law a while ago, and seemingly every argument against it has been put forth in the last week or so. It remains to be seen if the backlash pushes the state legislature to backtrack. But even if it doesn't, with the onslaught of recent legal victories for gay rights, it's fair to wonder whether the law will stick anyway.

    To that, some legal precedent:

    The face of so-called “Religious Freedom” bills seems to be eateries looking to deny service to homosexuals, which has elicited comparisons to segregated lunch counters from the Civil Rights Era. Well, in the 1964 decision Katzenbach v. McClung, the Supreme Court found 9-0 that customer discrimination in restaurants is unconstitutional, as per the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But, it should be noted that the Civil Rights Act, while outlawing discrimination on basis of race or sex, does not specifically mention sexual orientation.

    There were few rulings on sexual orientation until the 1996 case Romer v. Evans, in which the Court ruled 6-3 that an amendment to the Colorado state constitution allowing discrimination based on sexual orientation was unconstitutional. Of the five current Justices who were on the Court at the time, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Anthony Kennedy voted with the majority, while Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.

    Romer v. Evans wasn’t completely all-encompassing, as several states still have laws that are in some way discriminatory (in many states, it’s still legal for employers to fire workers for being gay, for instance). Still, the decision was cited as precedent in many high profile gay rights cases. Among them were the Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court decision striking down anti-sodomy laws in all states, and the Massachusetts case Goodridge v. Department of Public Health which legalized same-sex marriage in the state.

    Between those two cases, it would seem SB 101’s days could already be numbered. But, last year’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. set a big new precedent pertaining to what constitutes religious freedom, one that allowed private businesses to opt out of certain legal requirements that go against the owners' religion. So if SB 101 or a similar law should make it all the way to the Supreme Court, it's hard to say what would happen.