INDIANAPOLIS — Just hours after Indiana Gov. Mike Pence asked for supplementary legislation to clarify the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Senate leaders say they have a “potential vehicle” to create the additional bill.
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said Senate Bill 50 could eventually contain the legislation the governor is asking for to answer some of the questions regarding the controversial RFRA.
“If we can arrive at language that would work — we’re not there yet — that would be a vehicle,” Long said. “And the reason we created one is simply to be prepared, because we have a sense that we need to move quickly out here and be pretty nimble.”
The governor asked to see the additional legislation on his desk sometime this week.
Long said he wants to stay true to the governor’s vision for the additional legislation.
“The goal is simply to clarify…that it does not discriminate in any way, shape or form,” Long said.
“I am completely convinced that there’s not a discriminatory line in there,” Long continued. “And anyone who interprets there is must be doing it for a political reason, because I just can’t find any basis for anyone saying it’s discriminatory.”
The Senate leader said he thinks his party understands the need for the additional bill in the face of the extreme backlash surrounding RFRA.
“I think everyone realizes that we need to address this bill in some way, shape or form,” Long said. “And while I feel that some think we did the exact right thing…they also recognized (it’s) a national issue right now.”
But Long also said he realizes that some people won’t be satisfied with any amendments to the bill unless they include a special protection for same-sex couples.
“Anything we come up with short of that will be criticized,” Long said.
Long said so far, no public meetings have been planned that would allow Hoosiers to testify about the additional bill. But, he said those meetings will happen before the new bill is voted on. Long said ideally, the public meeting would be tomorrow, and the vote on SB 50 would be on Thursday.
“That would be a goal,” Long said. “But we can’t move until we’re all agreed.”
Earlier today, Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said Democrats were not consulted or listened to before or after RFRA was signed into law. But Long said at least one Democrat and one Republican from both the House and Senate are working on the newest bill.
“The four leaders are the advisers, so that should be a clue right there that we wanted to have everyone included in it,” Long said.
So far, Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, Sen. John Broden, D-South Bend, Rep. David Frizzel, R-Indianapolis, and Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, are named on SB 50 in addition to the four legislative leaders.
Long also said he thinks legislators are “close” to arriving at language that will appease both sides.
Lanane called for the total repeal of RFRA, but consented that amending the Indiana Civil Rights Act to allow for specific protection for same-sex couples would be a good enough compromise. Long declined to comment on that idea.
“This isn’t about sexual orientation, except it was made to be about sexual orientation,” Long said. “That certainly was never my intention or in my mind when we discussed this bill.”
Long also declined to comment on who he thought might support SB 50, if it were to come to a vote.
Several businesses have threatened to take their work out of Indiana if RFRA remains an Indiana law. Long said the Senate is considering those threats as they try to craft SB 50.
“We’re talking and vetting some language out to people in the business community, as well, trying to find some common ground, and that’s appropriate given the current economic discussions going on about Indiana,” Long said.
House leaders wouldn’t say exactly when they intend to discuss a similar bill, but they did confirm that they plan to do so this week.
Olivia Covington is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.