Former State Sen.: “Some knew it could discriminate”

Three months after his retirement, a former Indiana Republican state senator shared his thoughts on what state lawmakers were thinking when they put S.B. 101 into law.

INDIANAPOLIS (WANE) – Former Republican State Senator Tom Wyss shared his thoughts on what state lawmakers were thinking when they passed S.B. 101.

Wyss was a state senator for 30 years as he served the state’s 15th district. He did not seek re-election at the end of his term in 2014.

He said the majority of the 40 state senators who approved Indiana’s version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act did it with the intention of protecting Hoosiers’ religious liberties. However, he did add that some did it as a way to discriminate the state’s gay and lesbian population.

“I truly believe the vast majority of the people who voted for this bill really those who were interested in freedom of religion for all people, with no intention for discrimination,” Wyss told NewsChannel 15. “I think in some cases there were people who were totally confident this would have been something that would have protected the gay community. Which that is a sad commentary in today’s life.”

Wyss said everyone has a right to their own opinion until it becomes something that stems from hate and true discrimination.

The former senator guessed those who saw the bill as a form of discrimination was less than ten state senators.

While Wyss talks to his former colleagues less now than he did while a state legislator, he has seen first-hand how discrimination can play a role in a bill getting passed or not.

“I did an anti-bullying bill several years ago that was defeated,” Wyss stated. “These groups that are in opposition to anything that has to deal with the gay community were very pleased that I lost my bill because they said it was only going to be there to support gay people. That was totally erroneous. The bill was designed to protect the kids.”

“Outside groups come in and skewer what we’re trying to do. That was done against me and that was done by some of the same people that I think were in favor of this being discriminatory this time.”

Two area state senators had a direct impact on first getting S.B. 101 onto the Senate floor. State Senator Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn) was an author on the bill. State Senator Liz Brown (R-Fort Wayne), who replaced Wyss, was a co-author on the bill.

Kruse and Brown have not issued statements regarding the law, according to their press secretary.

Brown texted NewsChannel 15 Wednesday afternoon, “We are looking at the law, the ramifications and possible clarifications.”

Those clarifications could come Thursday morning, as Pence is set to hold a press conference announcing lawmakers have reached a new deal.

Wyss said that Republican leaders thought it was best for lawmakers to hold off on discussing the bill until everything could be sorted out.

“What you’re seeing right now is lawmakers are taking a step back and saying let’s take steps in solving this,” Wyss said. “Let’s show our state, our nation, everybody that this was not meant to be discrimination, rather than people getting out there and giving their point of view. Leadership wants to get a solid, straightforward decision among all of the Republicans, and hopefully the Democrats, on what is the right language to prove this has nothing to do with the discrimination of anybody, but rather the freedom of religion for all religions in our state.”

“I know there are people out there who think there is nothing wrong with [RFRA], but I think the changes that will be purposed to make sure this isn’t a discrimination bill is really what we need to do.”

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