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Indiana Senator Dan Coats predicts the Senate will approve fast-track trade authority this week for a Pacific Rim trade deal, but says getting there may be a tough slog.  Several Democrats are defying President Obama to try to block fast-track, which would allow the administration to begin final negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and let the eventual deal come to the floor without amendments.

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Indiana’s unemployment rate fell in March to its lowest level in five months.  But the state’s private sector also lost jobs.

The Hoosier unemployment rate fell one-tenth of a percent to 5.8-percent in March, the second month in a row the rate went down.  But it's still three-tenths of a percent higher than the national average of 5.5-percent.

But that drop may not be good news: the state’s private sector lost 800 jobs last month, fueled by huge losses – more than 5,000 – in the professional and business services sector. 

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The Senate Wednesday narrowly approved a bill eliminating the state’s common construction wage after senators spent more than three hours over the past two days debating the issue of repealing Indiana’s minimum wage for construction workers on public projects.

Opponents of the bill such as Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage) note that the common wage helps support job training programs and ensures public projects are properly built by well-trained, highly paid workers.

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29-percent of Hoosiers live in places with local ordinances protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination. And that proportion could grow in the wake of last week‘s religious freedom controversy.

Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard blasted the now-revised religious objections law as "ridiculous." Carmel already has an executive order prohibiting discrimination against gays and lesbians in city hiring -- Brainard says he‘ll send the city council an ordinance to add sexual orientation to local civil rights laws.

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A Senate committee Tuesday approved a bill repealing the state’s common construction wage while also adding new requirements for contractors on public projects. 

An amendment added in committee would require contractors to have training programs and liability insurance, and bars them from paying employees in cash. 

It also prohibits local governments from passing their own version of the common wage.  Sen. Brandt Hershman (R-Buck Creek), who authored the amendment, says it ensures workers are well trained and public projects well done.

Rachel Morello / StateImpact Indiana

It may not sound like music to your ears, but for James Ratican, the administrator for a construction apprenticeship and training program in Anderson, a construction site is a concert.

“It’s like an orchestra playing and everyone has to be on the right key …That’s a little bit of the music and that bass will kick in when that diesel hammer fires off," Ratican says.

The program is operated by a local chapter of the International Union of Operating Engineers. On this day, students are learning how to operate cranes and pile drivers.

Shih-Pei Chang / https://www.flickr.com/photos/thoth188/3147537974

Though he says he hasn’t had any conversations with potential investors about the state’s so-called “religious freedom” bill, West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis acknowledges he’s fighting against the bad press it’s created.

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After four months without a decrease in unemployment, Indiana’s rate fell below 6-percent in February. 

Indiana’s unemployment rate rose to 6-percent in January, the first time it hit that mark in nearly a year. 

But it only lasted a month, falling back to 5.9-percent in February.  The state’s private sector also created 1,700 jobs last month. 

The slight dip in the unemployment rate is due in part to Hoosiers leaving the labor force in February, meaning fewer people looking for work. 

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As Governor Mike Pence signed the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law Thursday, he blamed the media for what he calls a misunderstanding of the law. 

RFRA establishes a judicial test that courts will use to decide when the government can infringe on a person’s religious beliefs and practices.  Many groups say they’re concerned it will be used to sanction discrimination, particularly against LGBT Hoosiers.  But Pence says if he thought the law, which exists at the federal level and in 30 other states, was discriminatory, he would have vetoed it.

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Even if Governor Pence signs the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, an Indianapolis employment lawyer says that doesn’t preclude employers in the state from taking action against employees who might try to invoke the new law.

John Haskin runs his own employment law practice and says even though the “at will” provision of state law says non-contract employees can be fired for any reason, using RFRA as a reason not to provide a service would give an employer plenty of cause to terminate a worker.

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