In case you missed it for April 4

Staff Writer

RFRA amendment triggers mixed emotions

GREENFIELD — Local residents are encouraged by changes to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that will prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians, but some worry those changes might weaken religious freedom.

On Thursday, state lawmakers passed an amendment aimed at bolstering the state’s discrimination safeguards. The amendment, which passed the Senate 34-16 and the House 66-30, was signed by Gov. Mike Pence that evening.

The change came in response to public outcry that the newly passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act could give businesses a means to deny services to the gay community.

The amendment states that the bill does not give business owners the right to deny services based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Additionally, the amendment states the bill doesn’t establish a defense in a discrimination lawsuit for refusal of services based on sexual preference.

When Pence signed the original bill into law last week, the move sparked a furor the governor later said he never anticipated.

Officials explore safety upgrade

NEW PALESTINE — The site of the traffic accident that took the life of an area teen has concerned county officials for some time, but the most recent crash has sparked discussion about what can be done to make the rural intersection safer.

Andrew Hall, 15, of Greenfield died March 15 from injuries sustained in a car accident at county roads 500W and 300S in New Palestine. The car in which Hall was a backseat passenger went through a stop sign while traveling west on County Road 300S.

The vehicle was struck by a Toyota minivan heading south on County Road 500W, which does not have a stop sign at the junction. Hall was not wearing a seat belt at the time, according to law enforcement.

The intersection is the scene of as many as five crashes a year. Local officials have done what they can to make the area safer in the past, including removing trees at the intersection last year.

Now, Hancock County commissioners and the New Palestine Town Council are looking to see what more can be done.

Judge shutters local business, says owner can’t operate before paying back taxes

GREENFIELD — The Riley House Restaurant likely is closed for good.

A judge granted the Indiana Department of Revenue’s request Monday to bar restaurant owner Kimberly Lawrence from doing business until she pays more than $350,000 in back taxes and penalties, an amount her attorney said Lawrence likely can’t pay without liquidating the business.

Lawrence had expressed a belief she could reopen the eatery on Main Street just west of downtown Greenfield, but she has been denied a bank loan to cover the taxes, her attorney, Michael Griffin, said following the hearing Monday.

Lawrence said in court that she has no education beyond high school and no skills aside from restaurant management. Without that income, she said, she doubted she would be able to catch up on her taxes.

Indiana deputy attorney general John Frank appeared in Hancock County Superior Court 1 on Monday on behalf of the Department of Revenue. He said Lawrence hasn’t paid state-required taxes since 2006, and her failure to pay taxes “is essentially equal to a theft.”