The Paper photo by Scotty Cameron 
League of Women Voters of Montgomery County President Karen Patton asked questions about how the recent legislation may negatively impact Indiana’s perception of livability.
The Paper photo by Scotty Cameron
League of Women Voters of Montgomery County President Karen Patton asked questions about how the recent legislation may negatively impact Indiana’s perception of livability.

State legislators covered many topics at Saturday's legislative breakfast, but during the question and answer period, the audience made it clear that there was one topic that was at the front of everyone's mind: the Religious Freedom Registration Act.

Indiana State Representatives Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville) and Sharon Negele (R-Attica), Indiana State Senator Phil Boots (R-Crawfordsville), Crawfordsville Mayor Todd Barton and Montgomery County Commissioner Phil Bane all attended the last Crawfordville / Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast in the series to address their constituents' concerns.

"You've probably heard about a little bill this whole week in the House of Representatives. We can have an hour-long debate that would take up the whole time but there are other things happening," Brown said, opening the panel discussion.

Boots, who took the podium after Brown, also focused on other business. "There are things going on in the senate and the legislature other than the law that has been consuming all the press and the national media, et cetera, et cetera over the last couple of weeks," he said.

After giving updates on other bills that are in the works, Boots turned his attention to RFRA, which all three legislators voted in favor of. "Obviously we're going to talk about probably something that everyone else has been talking about, and that's RFRA, the Religious Restoration Freedom Act. That's obviously consumed a lot of our time the last two weeks. We had no idea the firestorm was going to hit us like it did, I had no idea that this was that controversial," Boots said.

Negele also expressed surprise at the backlash from the bill. "It was very stressful, I have to say it. I've never gone through something like this, and obviously no one expected it," she said. "Hopefully this fix that we did will repair some of the damage."

Local attorney Elizabeth Justice opened the question segment. "It seems to me that the Republican supermajority is out of touch with the state of Indiana and certainly with the nation. To be shocked by the reaction to the ridiculous RFRA legislation shows that you're out of touch," she said. "I'm asking each of you to tell me, who lobbied you to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act?"

All three legislators denied being lobbied at all regarding the legislation. "I really wasn't targeted by a lobbyist. I really took the approach of do we really need this? My initial thought process was I didn't think we really needed it," Negele said. "When it came time to fix the bill, there were three choices: repeal it, add an extra class of protection or clarify it, and as a caucus, what we could get accomplished is clarification, and I fully supported that."

"It's a different time, we didn't have social media," Boots said regarding similar federal legislation signed in 1993. "That's what this is all about. Today, this is younger people's civil rights act, that's what they're looking at this. They support the LGBT community, they want to make an issue out of this whole thing."

Howard Hewitt with Wabash College asked, "Will the three elected representatives to state government support adding an Indiana civil liberty law of protection for those of different sexual identity or preference?"

Boots responded, "It's a bigger issue. I want to know where my protected class is for me as white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant."

Even though the RFRA legislation is a state-wide issue, Barton was not exempt from being asked questions about the bill. Hewitt asked the mayor if there were any city ordinances in the works or on the agenda to address the act.

"I knew that was coming," Barton said. "We're going to have to dive into this next week, in all honesty, to see where we're at." He added that he would like to look to other similar communities as examples to see how to handle the issue.

Local businessman Bud Arnold stated that he was not going to let the legislation change the way he operates. "I own a small business here in town. I guarantee you that I don't care what you have on the law, nobody will be discriminated in my business. If I discriminate against people, I'll lose customers, and I don't want to lose customers," he said. "I think a lot of people here are the same way."