News and Tribune

January 13, 2014

State, Southern Indiana chambers mum on same-sex marriage ban

State chamber focusing on education, economic development


NEW ALBANY — Economic development, education and the workforce — the Indiana Chamber of Commerce has opinions on state legislation regarding such topics, but the organization is refraining from taking a stance on what its leader conceded is the “elephant in the room.”

During a legislative preview hosted by One Southern Indiana on Monday, Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar said the organization will stand by its choice and not take a position on a proposed state Constitutional amendment that would ban same sex marriage.

“We have members with strong feelings and positions on both sides of this issue,” Brinegar said at 1si’s office on Charlestown Road. “Because of that, our volunteer leaders have decided that we shall take no position.”

His comments came on the same day the amendment — House Joint Resolution 3 — failed to receive a vote by the Indiana House Judiciary Committee.

If the amendment is ultimately approved by the Statehouse it will be placed on ballots this November for a voter referendum.

One Southern Indiana President and CEO Wendy Dant Chesser echoed Brinegar’s statement, saying the local Chamber’s Advocacy Council decided not to take a stance on the marriage amendment because there wasn’t a consensus among members.

Dant Chesser said 1si’s Advocacy Council will continue to focus on ways to support the local business community as it pertains to legislation, even though a position wasn’t taken on HJR-3. One Southern Indiana has also refrained in recent years from endorsing candidates.

“We are champions of ideas,” she said.

A constitutional ban on same sex marriage had more appeal, especially to conservative lawmakers, about nine years ago when the legislation was first introduced, Brinegar said.

“I cannot recall an issue where public sentiment has changed so rapidly,” he said.

Brinegar — who has 33 years of experience either working for or lobbying the Indiana General Assembly — said the tide of change in public opinion over the matter begs a question.

Why bother?

Same sex marriage is banned in Indiana, but HJR-3 would make that law part of the constitution. But voters still would have to approve the amendment, and Brinegar said that doesn’t seem as likely as it did nine years ago.

“The polling I’ve seen — including our own — is that it will fail,” he said of the referendum.

What the Indiana Chamber doesn’t want to see happen is for lawmakers to become so consumed in  debate over the marriage amendment that it neglects other issues, primarily business affairs.

The Indiana Chamber’s 2014 Legislative Priorities agenda doesn’t include HJR-3, but taxation, health care and education initiatives are detailed.

One major point of emphasis for the Chamber this session is the proposed elimination of business machinery taxation.

The House has considered allowing local municipalities to implement an income tax to makeup for the lost revenue from eliminating the machinery tax.

The Senate has mulled over ending the tax for smaller businesses.

The Chamber disapproves of the tax because the organization believes it puts the state at a competitive disadvantage, as many neighboring states have no such levy.

“We just think it’s bad tax policy to tax investments,” Brinegar said.

On the education front, the Chamber backs a proposed framework for publicly-funded preschool programs for low-income families.

Brinegar said the initiative is really a way of combating drop out rates. A student who doesn’t have preschool training often starts behind other children in terms of comprehension levels in grade school, and that disadvantage often plagues them as they continue their education, he continued.

Brinegar has traveled to several communities to talk about the Chamber’s 2014 Legislative Priorities agenda.

Dant Chesser said 1si polled its members and found most believe state and federal legislation impacts their businesses the most; therefore, the organization wanted to give them an opportunity to hear more about what’s happening in the Indiana Statehouse this year.

To read more about the 2014 Legislative Priorities agenda, visit the website