Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Bosma Approved Thompson's Anti-Gay Amendment

The Jeff Thompson gay-bashing debacle is over for now. The red-faced legislator withdrew his controversial amendment to overturn local gay rights ordinances adopted by the City of Indianapolis and other communities around the state amidst the controversy it triggered when it was first considered last night. As House Speaker Brian Bosma sought to distance himself from the controversial amendment, evidence emerges that Bosma at least tacitly approved of the anti-gay measure before opposition arose even from within his own party to the sweeping proposal.

The controversial amendment #12 to HB 1010, a bill pertaining to eminent domain, was first filed in the House by Rep. Jeff Thompson (R-Danville) on Monday at 11:25 a.m., well in advance of the deadline for filing floor amendments to bills to be heard on second reading on Tuesday afternoon’s calendar for the House of Representatives. Speaker Bosma has a team of attorneys who review and draft all proposed amendments being offered by members of his GOP caucus. As part of that process, the Speaker is made aware well in advance of any amendments his members intend to offer, affording him the opportunity to dissuade a member from interfering with the Speaker and his party’s legislative agenda each day.

The eminent domain bill has been a top priority of the GOP members in the wake of last year’s controversial Supreme Court ruling allowing units of government to take private property from one property owner and giving it to another private property owner using its eminent domain powers. HB 1010, offered by Rep. Dave Wolkins, represents the bi-partisan work of a legislative study committee. The anti-gay Christian right organization, Advance America, and its leader Eric Miller have made passage of HB 1010 one of their biggest priorities this session as well. Rep. Jeff Thompson is a close ally of Advance America and would never have offered his amendment without the full blessing of Eric Miller.

After House Speaker Bosma abruptly ended debate on Thompson’s amendment and adjourned the House without further action, he sought to distance himself from the controversial amendment, suggesting that it should never have been eligible for consideration as an amendment to the eminent domain bill without first being considered in committee. Yet, the video archive of the January 24th session clearly indicates at least Bosma’s tacit approval to hearing Thompson’s amendment.

The House video from yesterday’s session shows Speaker Bosma presiding over the chamber and recognizing Rep. Thompson at 52:58 minutes into the session for purposes of offering his controversial amendment to HB 1010. Speaker Bosma remained in the chair as Rep. Thompson presented his amendment. As Thompson concluded his remarks, Bosma can be seen passing off the gavel to House Speaker Pro Tem Eric Turner at 53:44 minutes into the session.

Before departing, Speaker Bosma hears Rep. Thompson explain that his amendment was being offered as a “protection of private property” with respect to “protections or granting access to a person renting, leasing or buying private property or in the case of private employment it limits those protections to those strictly found [in federal or state law] . . . only those protections are granted and does not allow local government to make any other types of protections.”

As soon as Bosma hands off the gavel to Turner, an objection is immediately raised by Rep. Scott Pelath (D) to Thompson’s amendment on the basis that it does not pertain to the same subject matter as the underlying bill. For the next twenty minutes, Turner, Pelath and other members and the House Parliamentarian can be seen off to the side of the podium debating the germaneness of the amendment. Finally, at 1:16:24 hours into the session, Turner takes to the chair and rules that both the underlying bill and the amendment pertain to “personal property rights” and, therefore, Pelath’s motion is not in order. The House remains at ease for another 10 minutes while House Republicans discuss Thompson’s amendment off camera before proceeding with the debate.

When the debate resumes, Rep. Thompson is allowed to explain anew what his amendment does. Democratic members then began questioning Thompson about the motive behind his bill and the impact it would have. Rep. Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington) asked Thompson if the denial of these protections would apply to everyone and specifically, women. Thompson answered in the affirmative to both questions. Asked by Pierce whether his amendment was directed at a specific ordinance, Thompson responded that there had been, “as you well know” certain local ordinances enacted which extend protections beyond what is offered under federal or state laws. Thompson conceded to Rep. Pelath that it would apply to laws protecting veterans and celibates.

As was reported by the Star, at no time during the debate did anyone use the word “gay”, although it was quite obvious to everyone that the passage of Indianapolis’ HRO, providing protection on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, was the impetus behind Thompson’s amendment. Even Thompson admitted that to reporters at the conclusion of the debate. As other members of the chamber began one-by-one attacking the breadth of Thompson’s amendment, including one Republican, Rep. John Ulmer (R-Goshen), Thompson’s general ignorance of the subject matter and his bad motive for offering the amendment became ever more apparent.

Unable to take any further embarrassment, Speaker Bosma took the chair back from Turner and quickly adjourned the House without further consideration of the amendment. As we indicated earlier, Bosma sought to distance himself from the amendment in discussions later with reporters, but that simply does not hold water. He clearly knew about the amendment in advance, which was prepared, reviewed and otherwise vetted by his own staff attorneys and he himself allowed the amendment to be offered while he presided over the House.

The Speaker made a bad calculation that Democrats would fold under the pressure of having to cast a vote against an amendment which quite apparently was anti-gay. Caught up in the enthusiasm of enacting another anti-discriminatory measure towards gays like his anti-gay marriage amendment from last year, the Speaker recklessly failed to grasp the vast breadth of the Thompson amendment in a way that his rank and file members clearly did. That error in judgment has seriously eroded his credibility and raises serious questions about his ability to lead his own caucus. In so doing, he stepped on the otherwise good intentions of reforming Indiana's eminent domain law, allowing the gay-bashing amendment to overshadow it.

In the end, the voters will probably tend to the matter themselves. The increasingly extremist actions of an extremist majority will no doubt lead to the GOP’s own undoing when voters fail to return a majority of Republicans to the House next year and instead elect a majority of Democrats to lead the body.

No comments: