Governor facing gun permit, trans sports ban decisions
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A plan endorsed by Gov. Eric Holcomb to gradually cut Indiana’s individual income tax rate over the next decade will soon be at his desk after winning approval in the final hour of this year’s legislative session.
While Holcomb is nearly certain to sign the tax cut package into law, he has sidestepped giving his stance on contentious bills approved by the Republican-dominated Legislature to repeal the state’s permit requirement to carry a handgun in public and banning transgender females from participating in girls school sports.
The Republican governor has already signed a bill for ending the state’s nearly two-year-long COVID-19 public health emergency declaration after lawmakers turned down a push aimed at forcing businesses to give broad exemptions from workplace vaccination requirements.
Here’s a look at some top issues from the legislative session that saw several splits among Republicans before it ended early Wednesday:
The tax cut plan calls for reducing the state’s current income tax rate of 3.23% to 2.9% in small steps until its planned full implementation in 2029 but doesn’t include some sizeable business tax cuts that House Republicans sought.
The plan would cut the tax rate to 3.15% for 2023, which would amount to $40 savings for those with $50,000 in taxable income. Further reductions in 2025, 2027 and 2029 would only occur if state tax revenue grows by at least 2% in the previous budget year.
Holcomb and Senate Republican leaders for months resisted backing significant tax cuts, citing concerns about inflation and a possible slowdown in the state’s booming tax collections with the end of federal COVID-19 relief funding.
But that hesitancy faded away in the last couple weeks, with Holcomb saying ongoing strong tax revenue made him confident the state could afford the tax cuts.
“Because we can, we should,” Holcomb said.
Republican lawmakers pushed through the bill for repealing the handgun carry permit requirement, leaving Holcomb the dilemma of whether to support what is a major conservative cause or agree with the objections of his state police superintendent.
The bill would allow anyone age 18 or older to carry a handgun in public except for reasons such as having a felony conviction or having a dangerous mental illness. Supporters argue the permit requirement undermines Second Amendment protections by forcing law-abiding citizens to undergo police fingerprinting and background checks.
State police Superintendent Doug Carter has joined leaders of the state Fraternal Order of Police, police chiefs association and county prosecutors association in arguing that eliminating the permit system would endanger officers by stripping them of a screening tool for quickly identifying dangerous people who shouldn’t have guns.
After Carter told lawmakers that “if you choose to support this bill, you will not be supporting us,” Holcomb said, “I stand behind Superintendent Carter 110%.” But when asked about the permit repeal bill, Holcomb simply said he would give the bill “careful thought” once it reached his desk, “understanding what the superintendent articulated is real.”
TRANSGENDER SPORTS BAN
Indiana would join at least 11 other Republican-led states banning transgender women and girls from school sports matching their gender identity if Holcomb signs the bill into law.
Hundreds of opponents attended Statehouse rallies and hearings, arguing the move is a bigoted response to a problem that doesn’t exist.
Republican sponsors of the bill said it was needed to protect the integrity of female sports and opportunities for girls to gain college athletic scholarships but pointed out no instances in the state of girls being outperformed by transgender athletes.
Holcomb told reporters recently that he hadn’t yet made a decision about the bill. Although he said he “adamantly” agrees that “boys should be playing boys sports and girls should be playing girls sports,” referring to a person’s gender at birth.
The governor also pointed to the Indiana High School Athletic Association, which already has a policy covering transgender students, and says it has had no transgender girls finalize a request to play on a girls’ team.
A drive failed for state laws mandating that classroom materials be vetted by parent review committees and placing restrictions on teaching about racism and political topics. That followed a national conservative movement against teaching concepts in K-12 schools such as “critical race theory,” which has become a catch-all term for the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions.
Senate Republicans pulled their version of the proposal in January following widespread criticism after bill sponsor GOP Sen. Scott Baldwin of Noblesville said teachers must be “impartial” when discussing Nazism and other political ideologies, although he later walked back his comments.
House Republicans, however, forged ahead, endorsing a bill that included a prohibition on teaching that anyone should feel “discomfort” or “guilt” about their race, gender, religion or political affiliation.
The proposal faced broad opposition from teacher and education groups before it ultimately failed when enough Republican senators couldn’t agree on a version and Democrats were unified against it.
The buildup to this year’s legislative session started in November with a six-hour-long hearing during which many people aired grievances about proposed federal COVID-19 vaccination mandates, government-ordered lockdowns and mask requirements.
Later hearings brought out similar complaints as House Republicans sought to place broad limits on workplace vaccine requirements. But Holcomb and Senate Republicans sided with major business groups in opposing such steps.
The push faded by late February as the state also saw steep drops in new COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths from mid-January peaks fueled by the delta and omicron variants.
In the end, lawmakers approved Holcomb’s requests for administrative steps allowing the state to keep receiving enhanced federal funding for Medicaid and food assistance programs. Workplace vaccine limitations were largely limited to those already in federal law.
Holcomb signed the bill into law on March 3 and issued an order immediately ending the statewide public health emergency declaration. That was three days short of the two-year mark of when he first issued it and 13 days before the second anniversary of the state’s first recorded COVID-19 death — a number that now tops 23,000.