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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: AG Hill says Legislature must decide if ID’s should include ‘X’ gender

Indiana’s attorney general made an official statement last week that state agencies are not allowed to use an “X” gender designation on identification documents for residents who don’t identify as male or female.

We wrote in September that we supported Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill Jr.’s action at that time to halt implementation of the procedure for people to change their gender on driver’s licenses and IDs. The rule was then recalled by the BMV so it could work with Hill on making changes.

We opposed the Bureau of Motor Vehicle’s unilateral approach to the new procedure because we believed it could potentially effect radical change in Indiana social policy.

Indiana law requires applications for driver’s licenses or state IDs to include information about the person’s gender. But Hill said the BMV and Indiana State Department of Health exceeded their authority when they briefly allowed nonbinary individuals to apply for a driver’s license, state identification card or birth certificate with an “X” marker.

Last week, in answer to a request from Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, Hill stated in an official opinion that agencies must have strict direction from the Indiana Legislature to adopt the nonbinary identifier. That was something we suggested in an editorial in December.

“Administrative agencies like the BMV and the ISDH are creatures of the Legislature whose powers are limited to their authorizing statutes,” Hill said in an Associated Press report.

The BMV has not responded to Hill’s opinion except to say it is reviewing his statement to decide how to proceed. An attorney general’s opinion is not legally binding.

The attorney general said state law only authorizes Indiana residents to identify as male or female.

“Individuals wishing to change their binary designation on a driver’s license or identification card may continue to utilize the process currently provided by BMV rules,” Hill said.

While people are free to live as they choose, we believe our state’s highest form of ID needs to be scientifically accurate, not politically correct. Instituting a policy that offers a third designation for gender, we fear, could serve to redefine social policy in our state beyond the scope of the BMV and the department of health. Rather, that should be a matter of careful consideration and legislation.

Hill’s future still uncertain

Hill, who is seeking a second term as attorney general in this year’s election, is awaiting a state Supreme Court decision on whether he’ll face any punishment for alleged professional misconduct following allegations that he drunkenly groped four women two years ago, including a state legislator.

At a hearing in October, he denied any wrongdoing. Former state Supreme Court Justice Myra Selby, who heard four days of testimony about the allegations, recommended in February that Hill’s law license be suspended for at least 60 days, writing that his “conduct was offensive, invasive, damaging and embarrassing” to the women.

Hill is accused of grabbing Democratic Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon’s buttocks and inappropriately touching and making unwelcome sexual comments toward three female legislative staffers — ages 23 to 26 at the time — during a party in March 2018 marking the end of that year’s legislative session.

Gov. Eric Holcomb and Republican leaders in the Indiana Legislature called for his resignation at the time.

Last week, Republican legislators could not agree on a proposal that could have forced Hill from office if his law license is suspended. A provision backed by the House and Holcomb would have prohibited anyone whose law license has been suspended for at least 30 days from serving as attorney general.

State law requires the attorney general to be “duly licensed to practice law in Indiana,” but it doesn’t specify whether the person can continue serving after facing professional disciplinary action.

The House voted 83-9 last week for provisions that would prohibit anyone whose law license has been suspended for at least 30 days from serving as attorney general. But Republican senators couldn’t agree on a removal process despite lengthy discussions, and the proposal died as this year’s legislative session drew to an end late Wednesday.

We think the voters can make the ultimate decision on Hill’s future as attorney general if he is nominated for the November election. Two other Republicans are challenging Hill for the GOP nomination, which will be decided during the state party convention in June.