RFRA fiasco changed Statehouse direction

(Bloomington) Herald-Times

What was supposed to be the Education Session of the Indiana General Assembly will forever be remembered as the RFRA Session based on the divisive and hurtful action on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The Republicans who dominate the General Assembly have been trying to say otherwise since the session, but they have to know better. If they don’t, their heads are deep in the Indiana Dunes.

Led by Gov. Mike Pence, the GOP badly bungled their leadership responsibilities when they pushed through RFRA as if everyone would just assume they weren’t trying to discriminate against anyone. Sorry, governor and all others who had a role in this debacle.

No one assumed anything of the sort, especially when GOP cronies such as Eric Miller started crowing about how this would mean Christians didn’t have to provide wedding cakes for gay couples or do anything else that was against their religious principles.

After the state was ridiculed as being backward, and the economy was threatened by angry business leaders who threatened to spend dollars elsewhere, lawmakers “fixed” the law to make sure it stated that it would not allow discrimination in many clear circumstances. The anti-discrimination language included sexual orientation and gender identity, which are not protected classes in the state.

If you look hard for a silver lining, you could say the chaos might have moved the state closer to adding to Indiana civil rights law those designations as protected classes. Otherwise, it was an ugly couple of weeks that could haunt the Hoosier economy for many years.

Education did receive a lot of attention, but with some asterisks. Yes, the legislators approved $474 million more for public schools. But members of the GOP saw to it the money follows the students. The changed funding formula, which lawmakers themselves admit very few people understand, now funnels more money into growing, often suburban schools and away from poorer schools that are losing students.

Republicans also reduced the role of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction based on their disagreements with Glenda Ritz. She, of course, is the only Democrat in the state elected to a statewide office. Fortunately, legislators delayed removing her from being the chair of the state school board until after her four-year term expires.

One good point that didn’t make many headlines is a $100 tax credit for teachers who purchase their own classroom supplies.

The repeal of the common construction wage was very divisive, as Republicans said they wanted to make sure the state was getting the best contract deals they could for taxpayers, and Democrats complained already low pay for Hoosiers would drop more.

Lawmakers also deserve credit for bipartisan ethics reforms designed to limit conflicts of interest and enhance the public trust.

Without the RFRA problems, this session would have had its controversies, but it would have been considered an attempt to move the state forward.

But RFRA put the state in reverse. Next session has to be better. Doesn’t it?

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.