By BRIAN SLODYSKO
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana House’s top Democrat said Thursday that the gay rights debate in the Legislature isn’t over, even though the Republican-dominated Senate abandoned an anti-discrimination measure this week.
House Minority Leader Scott Pelath said he and other Democratic lawmakers will use committee meetings and floor debates to force discussion about expanding protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
“The businesses and the people of Indiana have demanded action with regard to civil rights,” he said.
Democrats are a minority in both legislative chambers and have little power. But Pelath said his caucus will push the issue because the idea of adding LGBT rights to state law has broad public support and Republicans shouldn’t be let “off the hook.”
GOP Senate leaders killed a bill Wednesday that would have extended discrimination protections to lesbians, gays and bisexuals, but not transgender people. That effectively ended the possibility of a law passing this year because it happened on the last day on which bills could move from one chamber to the other.
The measure would have offered discrimination protections to anyone who was fired or denied housing or service as a result of their sexual orientation. It also featured numerous exemptions for small businesses, clergy and religious organizations, including those that provide social services or contract with the state.
But those efforts to find a balance between the civil rights of the LGBT community and religious liberty satisfied no one, said Sen. David Long, leader of majority Republicans. He said efforts to pass a gay rights bill were dead for this legislative year and did not call the bill up for floor action despite an earlier promise to vote on the measure even if there wasn’t enough support for it to pass.
The Indiana Chamber of Commerce has warned that the failure to act leaves businesses in the state at a disadvantage when competing for talented employees.
The backlash last year over the passage of a religious objections law may have contributed to the loss of a dozen conventions that cost Indiana some $60 million, the tourism group Visit Indy said in a report last month.
Still, any attempt by Democrats to amend a bill will not likely fare well in the House.
Republican Speaker Brian Bosma said “it’s really not appropriate” to make major changes to state law “on the fly in a second.”
Pelath attributed more cynical motives to the GOP’s decision not to move forward on the bill.
“They wanted to look like they were trying to do something. And then sort of meekly throw up their hands and say, ‘Oh look, we can’t make anybody happy. We’re going to stop working on it,”’ Pelath said.