Hate Crimes Bill, Port Due Diligence On Gov. Holcomb's Next Level Agenda

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb shared Thursday his 2019 Next Level Agenda, a wish list for the state legislature.

(Indianapolis, Ind.) - Indiana's governor says he wants to see lawmakers approve a hate crime law this spring, but his version may be a little different.

During a reveal of his 2019 Next Level Agenda on Thursday, Governor Eric Holcomb said he wants to see gender identity added to any hate crimes law that comes out of the statehouse next year. Legislative leaders have said they want the hate crime plan to cover race, sex, and sexual identity, but not gender identity.

Holcomb first voiced his desire to see a hate crimes law passed following the vandalism of a synagogue in Indianapolis last July.

Such a law would allow judges to add extra prison time for offenders motivated by bias against their victims. Currently, Indiana is one of just five states without a hate crimes law on the books.

The Republican laid out five main pillars of his Next Level Agenda. They include cultivating a strong and diverse economy, maintaining and building infrastructure, developing a 21st Century workforce, public health and the drug epidemic, and delivering great government service.

“This agenda remains focused on what will make us stronger, with practical and people-centered solutions,” Holcomb said. “I look forward to working with Hoosiers, lawmakers and other stakeholders as we team up to achieve these priorities.”

The infrastructure portion of his agenda calls for continued due diligence on developing the state’s fourth port, located on the former Tanners Creek Power Plant site along the Ohio River near Lawrenceburg.

The first term governor is asking the Indiana Department of Child Services and lawmakers to implement recommendations from the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group’s report on the maligned, overspending agency.

On education, Holcomb said he wants to see lawmakers try to find a way to pay the state's teachers more money. Doing so will make the state more competitive for teaching talent.

“We’re losing teachers. We’re losing talent to neighboring states because we are competing against them, oftentimes on salary,” he said.

Instead of asking for an immediate boost in teacher pay, Holcomb wants to work with teachers, the Indiana Department of Education, and others to find a methodical plan for increasing salaries. He is asking that legislators hold off on a teacher pay increase until the budget to be passed in 2021.

The governor calls for increased K-12 funding, but he is also seeking the elimination of $30 million allocated each year for the Teacher Appreciation Grant performance pay program. Instead, the money would be put towards boosting the state income tax credit for teachers purchasing classroom supplies from $100 up to $500.

He is additionally requesting room for 500 more children in the On My Way Pre-K early childhood education program, but does not seek to expand it beyond the 20 counties where it already exists – none in southeastern Indiana. He does not plan to ask for more funding than the $14 million for the state’s school safety grant program.

Indiana House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) said Holcomb’s agenda announcement included nothing “earth-shattering or ground-breaking.” He suspects most people are in favor of goals like more school funding, increasing teacher pay, and a better-trained workforce.

But, will supermajority Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate go along with Holcomb’s wish list?

“What will be more interesting to see is the level of support the governor gets from his own party in the Legislature, because there have been problems in the past in getting more funding for our schools, to name just one thing mentioned today. That’s not even mentioning the problems in passing a bias crimes law, which probably would already be in place in our state if it wasn’t for the Republicans in the General Assembly,” said GiaQuinta.

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) says he shares the governor’s priorities. A balanced budget will be first on the agenda.

“We appreciate the governor’s leadership and vision for 2019, and look forward to working with him and our Senate colleagues next session to meet the state’s needs and build on Indiana’s success story.”

More than half of Indiana’s state budget is money for education. Republican State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Jennifer McCormick applauded the alignment of the department’s priorities released October 1 and those shared Thursday by the governor.

“The Indiana Department of Education will advocate for nothing less than a fiscally responsible and student-centered outcome to the 2019 legislative session, which must also empower, respect, and reward educators,” said McCormick.

While Democrats are happy to see Republicans largely come around to a hate crimes law, other Democrats are criticizing Holcomb and GOP lawmakers for not thinking bigger with their agenda. Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody says Holcomb is looking for “legislative layups” with a “little-risk, little-reward approach.”

GiaQuinta says he devil will be in the details of the bills themselves.

“I’m not sure House Democrats will need much selling. Republicans in the House and Senate might,” he said.

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