IN Focus: Lawmakers will study LGBT rights

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INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana lawmakers will study whether to add protections for gay and transgender Hoosiers, along with whether to respond to new guidelines from the Obama administration regarding transgender students and public school bathrooms.

The topic was approved along with dozens of others assigned to summer study committees by the General Assembly’s Legislative Council.

“I think all of it will be on the table,” State Senate President Pro Tem David Long (R-Fort  Wayne) said.

Last session, after immense pressure from both sides, lawmakers decided to not pursue legislation that would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation. A provision that included transgender people was dropped.

The announcement doesn’t guarantee new legislation during the 2017 legislative session, but it sets the stage for a heated debate this summer on whether the state should add protections for LGBT Hoosiers.

“Particularly it’s become even more topical than before based upon what the Obama administration did,” Long said.

The new federal guidelines direct public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom matching their identity.

“It seems to me this administration is trying to throw as many grenades into society as it can before they leave office next January,” Long said.

Leading Republicans amplified their concerns about a nationwide debate on transgender issues Wednesday while acknowledging the guidelines that could threaten federal aid to public schools that don’t comply.

“I think it underscores the overreach of the federal government,” House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) said. “Particularly this administration determining local bathroom policies is absolutely ridiculous.”

Chris Paulsen, campaign manager for Freedom Indiana, the group pushing for protections in the state’s civil rights code, called the decision a good opportunity.

“Lawmakers told us last session, the discussion we had in private and the education they received was very beneficial,” Paulsen said. “So I’m hopeful we’ll continue that discussion both publicly and privately with lawmakers.”

Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) called for a “comprehensive civil rights recommendation” coming from the committee.

“While I don’t think four words and a comma is a difficult concept to grasp, I’m encouraged to see Statehouse Republicans finally including LGBT Civil Rights on our list of topics to be studied,” Lanane said in a statement.

Yet Republican leaders were quick to note the outcome of the study is unknown.

“I’m not certain they’re going to find common ground on the issue that was so contentious last session,” Bosma said. “It’s worthy of a discussion and allow people to say their peace on it.”

Other topics lawmakers will study include solutions to the state’s heroin epidemic, road funding, taxing daily fantasy sports sites and ways to reduce the number of teachers charged with sexual misconduct.

“Students need to feel and be safe in the place they learn,” State Sen. Jim Merritt (R-Indianapolis) said in a statement. “I am hopeful with this study committee, we can identify additional ways to prevent predators from slipping through the cracks and gaining access into our school systems.”

Specific lawmakers have yet to be assigned to individual committees.

Recommendations will eventually be made for the 2017 legislative session.

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