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Lawmakers' push to avoid social issues draws ire from some

April 25, 2017

A push from GOP leaders in the Indiana Legislature to set aside divisive social issues this session has frustrated some social conservative groups who suggest Republican lawmakers ignored what their constituents care about.

In attempting to limit the time and attention devoted to controversial issues, lawmakers hoped to focus on other session priorities including crafting and passing a GOP infrastructure funding plan. Several proposals died without committee hearings or were revised during the session to limit constitutionality questions.

"It's really been a less contentious session than I can recall, at least recently, because people self-regulated," said House Speaker Brian Bosma, who acknowledged that he played a role in cracking down on divisive measures.

Avoiding hot social issues allowed Republican supermajorities in both chambers to meet their goal of passing a comprehensive package of funding mechanisms to pay for road improvements. But it's also drawn the ire of some social conservatives who have grown accustomed to regular legislative victories in recent years.

"It goes without saying, but we were very disappointed in Brian Bosma not addressing issues that are important to Hoosiers. Typical issues: the life issues, religious freedom," said Monica Boyer, a social conservative activist with the Indiana Liberty Coalition.

A few bills heading to Gov. Eric Holcomb's desk do touch on social issues, including a bill affirming student religious liberties and an abortion measure supporters say strengthens parental rights when their minor child is considering an abortion.

But they're a far cry from ambitious laws pushed through by Republicans since they captured full control of the House and Senate in the 2010 election. Those measures include the state's religious objections law, a ban on abortions because of fetal genetic abnormalities and a prohibition of state funding for Planned Parenthood and other entities that provide abortions. All were either scaled back or blocked after court challenges.

Micah Clark, director of the American Family Association of Indiana, said while he understands lawmakers wanting to take a breather from controversy, he worries about it becoming a habit.

"You hear a lot of politicians talking about social issues because they want our vote, our base — they'll talk about life, marriage, religious freedom, parenting," said Micah Clark, director of the American Family Association of Indiana. "But then it seems like sometimes they forget about that when the session kicks in."

Some groups, like the Indiana Family Institute and Indiana Right to Life, say they are pleased with the session's anti-abortion legislation, calling it good progress.

Betty Cockrum, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, called the session less dramatic than many others she'd witnessed — a departure from recent years she theorized could be attributed to freshman Gov. Holcomb.

Holcomb's agenda focused on workforce development, an infrastructure funding plan and combatting the drug epidemic, among other things. When the Legislature waded into abortion and school prayer this session, he largely stayed out of the public fray.

Others, such as the ACLU of Indiana, don't see much of a crackdown on social issues, said the group's director of advocacy, Katie Blair.

She said it's not "the worst it's ever been," in terms of bills on contentious topics, but there are still a number that cause concern, including one banning the sanctuary campus designation in the state and tweaking the state's judicial waiver process for minors seeking abortions.

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