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EDITORIAL: Time to resolve controversies

January 2, 2016

It’s a new year—with many of the same old problems. Here are a few prominent examples, complete with what we think should happen in the year ahead:

• The equality issue of our time—equal rights for the LGBT community—saw significant progress in 2015. Gay marriage is now the law of the land, but in Indiana there is damage to repair and a final chapter to be written in this seemingly endless culture war.

Those who perpetuate the war through their reluctance to accept equality are preparing to do battle yet again in the Indiana General Assembly. Having lost the battle to preserve marriage as an institution exclusive to heterosexual couples, religious conservatives are now facing fallout from last year’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Their cherished RFRA legislation backfired on the entire state, damaging Indiana’s reputation and putting business interests at risk.

Negative reaction to the act was so strong it pushed to the forefront an issue RFRA supporters certainly didn’t intend to draw attention to: the absence of civil rights protections for LGBT Hoosiers, who are now protected from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation only if they live in a city or town with a rights ordinance.

Extending equal rights statewide could be as simple as adding a few words to the state’s civil rights act, but opponents of such a fix say it would trample the religious freedom of those whose faiths do not accept homosexuality. They cite in part their adherence to Scripture, a view that overlooks the Bible’s acceptance of myriad other misguided ideas, including slavery and the mistreatment of women.

Gov. Mike Pence and other Republicans should agree to the simple fix or work progressively on a Senate GOP caucus plan that tries to strike a balance.

• Too many roads and bridges in Indiana are in disrepair. Blame it on the idea held by some that maintaining the state’s infrastructure should only be paid for with found money. Too many Democrats and Republicans are focused on shifting money or spending down the state’s rainy day fund. We applaud House Republicans for proposing a 5-cent-per-gallon gasoline-tax increase and a $1-per-pack hike in the cigarette tax to fund road improvements. Here’s hoping Hoosiers in denial about the need to spend money on this basic role of government will wake up in 2016. Spending money on roads creates jobs, protects our investment in infrastructure, and can save lives.

• One of the last casualties of Mayor Greg Ballard’s agenda was the Justice Center project that would have consolidated jails and courts, replacing the scattered, inadequate facilities that serve the city today. We don’t disagree with those who raised concern about the behind-the-scenes nature of the proposal and ultimately killed the project. But the problems Ballard and his team were trying to solve haven’t disappeared. Mayor Joe Hogsett owes it to residents of Marion County to come up with a workable plan. Having safe and efficient courts and jails is consistent with Hogsett’s emphasis on public safety. He and the Democrats who control the City-County Council should step up in 2016 and accomplish what Ballard couldn’t.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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