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Michigan mayors urge businesses to rethink Indiana conventions

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

Two mid-Michigan mayors are trying to lure convention planners looking to move their events out of Indiana. 

The controversy over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration lawhas many groups rethinking their convention plans in the Hoosier state.

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and East Lansing Mayor Nathan Triplett have posted an open letter encouraging convention planners to look to mid-Michigan.

The letter reads in part:

If our region’s facilities can accommodate your needs, we would be proud to work with you and to welcome your event to the metro Lansing region.

Triplett says the Lansing region has a “history of promoting inclusion and celebrating diversity.”

“I’m hopeful that some of the conventioneers that are making these choices choose to take a look at the Lansing region,” says Triplett.

Brenden Dwyer is with the Greater Lansing Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. He says convention business in the Lansing area is “very healthy.” Dwyer adds they would “welcome numerous additional groups as the year unfolds.”

Indiana's Republican legislative leaders have unveiled changes to the state's new religious objections law that has faced criticism it could allow discrimination against lesbians and gays.

The amendment to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act released Thursday prohibits service providers from using the law as a legal defense for refusing to provide services, goods, facilities or accommodations. It also bars discrimination based on race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service.

A conference committee must discuss the proposed changes to the law, and both the House and the Senate will need to approve them before they can go to Gov. Mike Pence.

Pence called for changes to clarify the law Tuesday in response to an uproar fueled by discrimination concerns.

Two gay rights groups say proposed changes to Indiana's new religious objections law reduce concerns that gays and lesbians could face discrimination, but lawmakers must take other steps to broaden those protections.

Freedom Indiana campaign manager Katie Blair says the proposed changes "represent an important step forward" and reduce the threat to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Hoosiers.

But Blair says statewide anti-discrimination laws for the LGBT community are still needed and without them "discrimination is still legal" in most of Indiana.

National gay rights advocacy group Lambda Legal calls the proposal "far less than this situation requires."

A prominent conservative lobbyist says the proposed changes to Indiana's religious objections law will remove protections from businesses in the state.

Advance America Director Eric Miller told a legislative committee Thursday that he opposed the changes because Indiana business owners wouldn't have as much legal protection as those in the other states with such laws.

Miller has faced criticism from gay rights activists over his website postings that the law would help protect Christian businesses from being compelled to provide services for same-sex marriages. Miller attended the private bill signing by Gov. Mike Pence last week.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting.