PORTAGE │ Taxes, education, energy, environmental, government reform and labor policy were topics addressed by representatives of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce during a legislative preview for local business people and elected officials.
The presentation Friday at the Northwest Indiana Forum offices was part what the Chamber has as its own agenda and what its sees is coming with the Indiana General Assembly.
One topic not on the day’s agenda, however, was what state Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, called “the elephant in the room.”
The amendment to write Indiana’s ban on gay marriage into the state constitution.
“I’m trying to figure out why the state chamber has not come out against it,” she said.
Tallian told Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar and Vince Griffin, vice president of energy and environmental policy, that the second clause of that amendment is awful for business.
“In terms of making Indiana business friendly, this is just a really bad move,” she said.
Tallian said she preferred to see the amendment “go away” and is concerned the upcoming session will be dominated by it.
Brinegar said the chamber has not come out against the amendment because it has members with strong feelings and positions on both sides. It’s been discussed in committees and the decision has been to not take a position “because we have strong and different views among our membership around the state,” he said. “We do not plan to be involved.”
Brinegar said he also believes the amendment would move early and quickly so the rest of the session is available to work on a variety of other issues.
“Even if it gets on the ballot and passes, nothing changes because we already have a law that defines marriage in Indiana (same-sex marriage is prohibited),” he said. “But the build-up between the time the Legislature votes to put it on the ballot and a year from now – the Election Day, all that publicity and media coverage and probably paid advertising on both sides is what’s going to give Indiana as a place to do business and a place to live and grow a black eye.”
As far as the agenda, Brinegar addressed the topic of “smoking and hiring.” He said the chamber wants to repeal legislation that was passed in the late 1980s or early '90s concerning what is called the smoker’s bill of rights in the case of prospective employees.
“Right now employers cannot factor in a prospective employee’s tobacco use in their hiring decision nor can they differentiate deductibles and co-pays someone who smokes who they know is going to, over time, cost them more money for health insurance,” he said. “We’re going to start seeking to repeal that legislation as a way to bring down the incidence of smoking in our state and give employers the choice (whether to make such hires)."