INDIANAPOLIS (April 1, 2015) - With the eyes of the nation watching, a small group of Indiana lawmakers will meet in a conference committee Thursday morning to finalize the details of a legislative "fix" to Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, also known as RFRA.
Late into the night, Republicans kept racing against the clock Wednesday to come up with a solution to appease the business community and others opposed to the controversial bill.
Our newsgathering partners at The Indianapolis Star first obtained a proposed draft shown to Gov. Mike Pence and debated Wednesday among lawmakers.
The language, inserted into Senate Bill 50, would give some protections for gays and lesbians with in the religious freedom law. It said a person or business could not refuse service or goods to anyone in the general public based on race, sexual orientation or gender identity. Churches and other religious nonprofits would be exempt.
“We’re very hopeful but we’re not there yet,” State Senate President Pro Tem David Long said shortly after 5 p.m. Wednesday. “We got to just keep plugging away.”
House Speaker Brian Bosma spent the day running between meetings and working to find a majority consensus.
“We’re just working hard trying to find some solutions here, and we’re talking to a lot of different people,” he said.
During an afternoon meeting, a group of Hoosiers supporting the law gathered outside the meeting room, some even urging lawmakers to keep the law as is.
“It’s a good bill right now,” Debi Ketron said. “It doesn’t need to be changed. People are trying to make it about discrimination. It’s not about discrimination, and that’s the thing that is concerning to me.”
Lawmakers not only have to find an agreement among themselves, but also among business and community leaders who spent Wednesday at the Statehouse demanding Indiana’s perception be fixed immediately.
“We’ve got all parties involved to come up with the proper language,” State Sen. Sean Eberhart (R-Shelbyville). “You’ve got the governor’s office involved. You’ve got the Senate and the House. We all have to agree to it. So everyone’s at the table.”
Eberhart was one of five Republicans who voted against the law. On Wednesday he said he’ll support the changes being made.
Democrats, meantime, say they haven’t been included in negotiations.
“We’re at the point where if we don’t see any language, we’re going to have to say how are we supposed to decide on this legislation?” State Rep. Ed Delaney (D-Indianapolis) said. “How are our voters supposed to know about it? So we’re going to pop a bill out of the air and vote on it tomorrow, so it’s getting problematic.”
Lawmakers met until around 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday night. Afterwards, Bosma told members of the media they felt like they had the language in place that would fix the bill.
"I don’t want to get into the details of the proposed solution yet until we’re absolutely confident that we’re there," said Bosma after Wednesday's private meetings. "We’ve had a very productive session in the House Republican caucus and it’s my hope we meet our goal tomorrow of coming to a successful conclusion."
Still, Democrats say they're frustrated by the process. Late Wednesday, DeLaney claimed they had nearly enough votes for a full repeal - within single digits according to DeLaney – though he doubted such a vote would actually take place.
“I think repeal is a mistake. It infers there’s something wrong with the RFRA law. I don’t think there is,” said Bosma. “The question is removing the specter that’s been raised, discrimination, denial of services, facilities, that’s what we’re focusing on.”
Leading Republicans insist they want the issued resolved, voted on in the House and Senate and sent to Pence on Thursday.
GOP leaders also announced a press conference would be held before Thursday's 9:30 a.m. conference committee hearing, with leading members of the business community at their side, including execs from the Indiana Pacers and Salesforce, along with former Indianapolis mayor Bart Peterson, who now works for Eli Lilly.