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Associated Press
GOP State Sen. Luke Kenley, left, shown in 2009 with former State Reps. Jeff Espich, center, and Bill Crawford, has expressed common-sense concerns on gay marriage and school voucher proposals.

GOP’s course change

Republican legislative leaders appear – thankfully – to be steering away from two wrongheaded proposals that would advance a socially conservative agenda but cost businesses and taxpayers.

Credit Sen. Luke Kenley, the powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee who is far from a liberal, for taking a common-sense approach to both proposals.

Kenley has changed his position and now opposes a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. And Wednesday, his opposition likely sounded the death knell for a proposal to expand Indiana’s already generous school voucher program.

Here’s why they are bad ideas.

Gay marriage ban

Several factors have combined to make the constitutional amendment unacceptable, at least for 2013.

•The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear cases regarding similar constitutional amendments, and some lawmakers rightly believe the best course is to await the decision. Even if a majority of lawmakers back the proposed amendment, the earliest it could go to a voter referendum is November 2014, so there is nothing lost if lawmakers wait another year.

•Even some fiscal conservatives worry about how the amendment could affect Indiana’s economic development efforts. The second sentence of the proposed amendment not only would ban civil unions but also could prevent businesses from offering benefits to domestic partners of employees, which could stymie efforts to bring qualified workers to the state.

The sentence reads: “A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.”

•There is a growing acceptance that it is just wrong to put language limiting – rather than confirming – personal rights in the constitution.

“I do not think that putting a statement in the constitution which runs down or is bigoted toward people who have a different kind of loving relationship, that I may not understand, is going to be productive,” Kenley said.

The issue may well come down to whether Senate President Pro Tem David Long and House Speaker Brian Bosma decide to let the proposal be heard or decide it’s better to, at the least, wait until the U.S. Supreme Court issues its ruling.

Voucher expansion

Sen. Carlin Yoder of Middlebury wants to allow children who have an older sibling attending a private school on a voucher to be waived from the requirement that they attend a public school for at least one year.

But Kenley said in Wednesday’s Senate education committee hearing that would be a fundamental change and eliminate a basic tenet of the state’s voucher program – that each student at least try a public school for one year. Indiana already has the most permissive eligibility requirements in the nation for school vouchers.

“Your motivation is just to find a way to inch this program to the open voucher program you want anyway,” Kenley told Yoder in a sharp exchange.

There’s another concern: the state is already spending more than $35 million on vouchers this year, and adding more children would cost untold millions more. And because those students don’t attend public school now, it would not merely shift resources from public to private schools. Rather, it would require the state to increase education funding.

Committee Chairman Dennis Kruse said the legislature will make no major changes in vouchers this year, and it’s doubtful even this minor change will occur without the support of Kenley, whose committee would have to find ways to finance it.