The priorities for Indiana House Republicans this year align with Gov. Eric Holcomb’s agenda, but one significant issue did not make the list: a hate crimes bill.
Holcomb has publicly stressed the need to get Indiana off “the naughty list” when it comes to hate crimes legislation. The state is one of five without such a law in place, which some argue has hindered economic development efforts.
The agenda for House Republicans, announced Monday morning, includes passing a balanced budget (which is now required under the Indiana Constitution) with extra funding for the Department of Child Services, supporting education through increased teacher pay and school safety efforts, and continuing to improve the state’s workforce development programs.
The list of priorities also focuses on reducing the state’s infant mortality rate and exempting military pensions from state income tax through a phase-in process.
The agenda for Indiana Senate Republicans also did not include hate crimes legislation. It is a top priority for Indiana Senate and House Democrats and the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, which also announced their agenda Monday morning.
Four bills on hate crimes have already been filed this year. One of the bills does not include any specific protected classes, such as race or religion, but three others do specify which classes of individuals and groups would be protected.
Holcomb has said he would like any hate crimes legislation to mirror the state’s existing personnel policy that includes protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.
House Speaker Brian Bosma has said he expects hates crime legislation to start in the Senate. Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray has said those bills will be assigned to the Rules and Legislative Procedures Committee, which is typically where bills are sent to die, but Bray has stressed that is not the case for this issue.
Democrats criticized the House agenda for not going far enough.
“Republicans continue to talk about the same things: Maintaining an honestly balanced budget…as if our state Constitution doesn’t now require it. Education funding…which usually means more experimentation with the education-for-profit industry. Workforce development…which generally leads to additional tax credits for large corporations,” House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta said in a prepared statement. “Will any of this help Hoosiers? As we have seen in recent years, those who are in charge find it better to talk about such things, instead of working to find pragmatic solutions to real issues.”
Bosma said a balanced budget has become something the state is used to having, but that wasn’t always the case, so it should still be seen as an accomplishment.
“If you recall the first time that I made that pledge publicly in 2004, we were told it couldn’t be done,” Bosma said. “It’s now become the norm. So, this group needs to take some pride and credit for that.”
Bosma said one of the bills aimed at increasing teacher pay would encourage schools to put 85 percent of the state funding they receive into classroom support, which then could translate into higher salaries for teachers.
He said if all public school corporations achieved this standard, it could mean an additional $350 million is going into classrooms, which is enough for a 5 percent pay increase for teachers.
Bosma said there will be new money in the budget for education, but the exact amount is still uncertain.
Bosma also mentioned that House Republicans will push forward on a bill that would make the position of state superintendent of public instruction an appointed position in 2021 instead of 2025, but it is not part of their agenda.
Holcomb also included that issue on his list of priorities, which he announced in December.
The legislative session started Jan. 3 and will continue through April.