Top Issues Of The 2016 Legislative Session

The legislature is officially in session and lawmakers have just 10 weeks to accomplish an ambitious agenda.

Many of the topics that will dominate their debates aren’t new. Here’s what you can expect to dominate the conversation during this year’s session.

LGBT Rights

Indiana’s statehouse became the subject of nationwide scrutiny last year after Governor Mike Pence signed the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law.

The backlash was swift and Democrats argue the damage hasn’t been repaired.

“Our state’s economic future demands that we attract new Hoosiers and retain current ones of all kinds,” House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, told legislators on the opening day of the legislative session. “If you have dreams for a better future, we want you here in Indiana. Already our civil rights statute has engendered much discussion in the post RFRA era.”

House Democrats are putting that issue at the top of their agenda for this year’s session.

They want to pass civil rights protections that will ensure people can’t be discriminated against based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“I recognize that for some of you this change might violate longstanding points of view,” Pelath said. “That’s OK. But a decisive amendment to our civil rights law will make the questions go away. It will fully heal our state’s image in the modern world by ensuring equality and fairness. And if you’re unsure if it’s the right thing to do, embrace the end of the thing.”

Senate Republicans unveiled their own proposal before the session kicked off. It includes exemptions for religious institutions.

Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, unveiled an alternative bill Thursday that doesn’t include civil rights protections for transgender Hoosiers. The gender identity portion would be moved to a summer study committee.

“I think to give the transgender community the center stage on this issue in a summer study committee basically responds to their concern that we don’t understand their issue,” Holdman says.

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