Monday, March 25, 2013

Legislation Will Nullify Local Human Rights Ordinances

Legislation that has passed both the Indiana Senate and House of Representatives will nullify protections enacted through the passage of local human rights ordinances from discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity. SB 213 prohibits cities, counties and townships from establishing, mandating or requiring an employer to provide a benefit, term of employment, working condition, or attendance or leave policy that exceeds the requirements of a federal or state law or regulation.

Currently, neither federal nor state law expressly prohibits discrimination against a person in employment opportunities based on their sexual orientation or gender identity; however, a number of local governments in Indiana, including Bloomington, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis and South Bend, among others municipalities and local governmental units, have enacted human rights ordinances that prohibit employers within their jurisdiction from discriminating against a person based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The legislation exempts employees of the governmental unit, contracts entered into by local governments and a third party, economic development incentives awarded by a local government and training and other qualifications established for a provide party of public safety and health services within the local government.

A number of major Indiana employers like Eli Lilly, Wellpoint and Cummins have been at the forefront in their support of human rights ordinances to ensure protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. They argue that a cultural atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance of diversity is necessary to attract talented workers, particularly younger professionals. Gay rights advocates believed they had achieved a major victory this year when the state's Republican legislative leaders agreed not to hear a constitutional amendment that would prohibit any state law that would recognize same-sex marriages or similar benefits until the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on pending cases before it this term regarding the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and state-enacted laws barring same-sex marriages. In one fell swoop, SB 213 wipes out years of gains achieved by gay rights advocates through the passage of local laws protecting against discrimination in employment.

Sen. Phil Boots is the principal author of SB 213, and State Rep. Mike Speedy is the House sponsor. SB 213 passed the Senate by a vote of 38-12, while the House passed the legislation by a smaller margin today by a vote of 54-40. Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard's office confirmed tonight their assessment that the legislation will nullify the city's human rights ordinance enacted in 2005 according to the Indianapolis Star. Rep. Speedy, who voted against the 2005 ordinance as a member of the city-county council, tells the Star that was not the legislation's intent, telling the Star he was "stunned" by the city's assessment. “Why didn’t they tell me that before?” Speedy said. The mayor's spokesman told the Star he is very concerned about the impact the legislation will have on the city's reputation. "Obviously Mayor Ballard wants to do everything he can to make sure that we are a welcoming and inviting place for business and residents and employees," Marc Lotter said.

Indiana Equality's Rick Sutton expressed shock at the impact of the legislation. “If the mayor’s office is correct, it will be a sorry day for this legislature,” Sutton said. “We weighed in pretty heavily that we didn’t want that to be the intention and were told directly by the speaker’s office that ‘You’ve got nothing to worry about. That’s not the intention of this bill.’ So we’d been assured all the way around.” State Rep. Ed Clere (R-New Albany) tells the Star he voted against it after he was advised by the House Republican's legal counsel that it could nullify New Albany's human rights ordinance. Sen. Boots argues that his only intent behind the legislation related to payment of wages and benefits, but it's hard to read the legislation that narrowly based on its plain wording.


Had Enough Indy? said...

Are you sure they didn't know exactly what they were doing?

Gary R. Welsh said...

They claim it was a chamber-backed bill. I don't believe the chamber would have intentionally drafted legislation to nullify the HROs. It was sloppy drafting by whoever was responsible for writing it.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Yeah, I don't know. The bill is like two pages. It's not like something was hidden in the bill someplace.

Unigov said...

This business is more nuanced, so I wrote a page on it: