GOP Senate leader: Bill will address LGBT rights, religious freedom

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An Indiana legislative leader assured business leaders Monday that Senate Republicans plan to introduce a bill in the upcoming legislative session that will address both civil rights for the LGBT community and religious freedom.

Indiana Republican Senate Pro Tem David Long said at the Indiana Chamber’s 2016 Legislative Preview event that he would promise a hearing for the bill, which he did not provide many details about but called “the biggest issue facing us as far as the politics involved.”

The state is still feeling the effects of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act championed by Gov. Mike Pence last spring, which caused a barrage of negative attention toward the state even after he tried to clarify it. Many said it could allow the state to discriminate against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Long said the bill, which is scheduled to be introduced by Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, would be “comprehensive" and would address both religious freedom and protecting civil rights. He said he would not provide many details about the bill before it is reviewed by the Senate’s Republican caucus.

Business leaders and Democrats have criticized the governor, saying the state needs to protect the civil rights of the gay and transgender community by adding sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under the law. They say it’s as simple as adding “four words and a comma” to the law.

But Republicans, including Long, have said that the religious freedom of Hoosiers needs to be taken into account as well.

“These are two competing constitutional interests,” Long said. “It’s not just four words and a comma. Anyone who says this is short-changing the discussion.”

Long said Gov. Mike Pence’s office was aware of the planned bill but said it wasn’t written in concert with him.

Meanwhile, Democrat legislative leaders say Republicans are making a simple solution more complicated than it needs to be.

The Senate Democrats have a bill that focuses on this issue,” said Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis. “Ours is simply to not discriminate. We don’t believe any of your religious beliefs should allow you to discriminate. This is not an issue we can afford to debate.”

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