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Milwaukee, Dane county leaders push ban on tax-subsidized Indiana travel

Supervisors in Milwaukee and Dane counties on April 1 called for banning non-essential, taxpayer-subsidized travel to Indiana in the wake of the state’s passage of a “license to discriminate” law.

Such travel bans already have been enacted for state governments in Connecticut, New York and Washington, as well as by the cities of Seattle, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon.

The protest is over passage of the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed late last week. The measure would allow discrimination based on religious beliefs in a state that lacks civil rights protections for LGBT people.

In response, Milwaukee County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic on April 1 called for a non-essential travel ban prohibiting the use of tax-subsidized travel to Indiana. Indiana is the first such measure to pass this year, but similar bills are pending in other states.

“We have to stand up to this epidemic,” Dimitrijevic said. “We’re not going to use taxpayer dollars to subsidize bigotry. … And we need to have an honest talk about action and inaction.”

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, an ardent supporter of equality, made a $5,000 donation to the ACLU of Indiana to support their legal efforts on behalf of LGBT Hoosiers. 

"I did it for the same reason I supported the ACLU here — and still support their efforts to fight voter ID," Abele said.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett penned an editorial for the Milwaukee Journa Sentinel condemning Indiana's law.

In Dane County, supervisors gathered in Madison to call for a ban.

Dane County Supervisors Kyle Richmond, Chuck Erickson and Andrew Schauer — who are gay — announced an ordinance amendment to ban county travel to Indiana and expenditures in Indiana.

Richmond, who represents District 4, said, "I was born and raised in Indiana and I am embarrassed. Legalizing bigotry in the name of religion is divisive and cowardly. As our Wisconsin Badger Final Four basketball team arrives in Indianapolis, Dane County expects a very different sort of 'Hoosier Hospitality.'"

Erickson, in a statement, said, "Dane County does not condone discrimination and has been a leader in the fight for LGBT equality for over a decade. Dane County's financial resources will not be used to support the bigotry and prejudice which were regrettably passed into law by the Indiana Legislature."

The Dane County amendment, which needs board approval, is worded to be in effect until the Indiana law is repeal. 

Schauer said Dane County must stay on the right side of history "by pulling its economic support" from the discriminatory environment in Indiana.

Meanwhile, Dimitrijevic said she hoped Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele would issue an executive order. Or, as an alternative, she said she would introduce a resolution for the county board’s consideration later this month.

“Our taxpayer dollars should not be used to support bigotry,” she said.

Dimitrijevic also extended a Wisconsin welcome to businesses that have objected to the Indiana legislation.

She said, “We are the most diverse community in Wisconsin, and I’m sure Indiana companies would benefit from locating in an atmosphere of tolerance.”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has indicated his support, in principle, for RFRA legislation.

Dimitrijevic said, “We need to be standing against this early on and say we are not going to allow this” in Wisconsin.

Editor's note: This story will be updated.

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