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Holcomb defends record, looks ahead to final budget session

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Gov. Eric Holcomb on Thursday said he stands behind his handling of hot-button issues that came out of the legislature this year.

The governor’s comments came during an end-of-year one-on-one interview with News 8 in his office at the Statehouse. He said 2022 was a good year for Indiana, pointing to the many jobs announcements the state saw.

State lawmakers waded into a host of social issues throughout the year, sending Holcomb bans on abortion and transgender girls playing on girls’ K-12 sports teams and attempting to ban the teaching of critical race theory in classrooms. Asked if it was right for the state government to get involved in such issues, Holcomb said it is lawmakers’ right as elected officials to champion causes their constituents are passionate about. The governor said he stood by his decision to sign legislation to eliminate the need for a permit to carry a firearm despite vociferous opposition from Indiana State Police Supt. Doug Carter. He said he had to balance law enforcement’s needs with constitutional rights in that instance. Holcomb said he and lawmakers would continue to work with law enforcement on ways to deal with the new permitless carry system.

Holcomb was the first and, to date, only governor to sign an abortion ban after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade. The law is currently unenforceable due to two separate court-ordered injunctions. Holcomb said be believes the law is constitutional.

“Just as before this law was put into place, there were critics and there were those who disagreed with it, and they championed policy that would be closer to their aligned view,” he said. “And the same will be true after the court decides on both of these cases where we go from here.”

Democrats roundly criticized Holcomb’s decision earlier this summer not to suspend or freeze the gas tax in the face of record gas prices. Holcomb said the state had to continue to make good on its commitments to road improvements. He said the decision to use an automatic tax refund allowed the state to keep its road projects moving while still providing some relief to taxpayers.

“A 20-year plan, a $60 billion commitment, the last thing we want to do is abandon that commitment and say those items can wait because we’ve established it’s a priority, and you can’t have both,” he said.

Looking ahead to the 2023 legislative session, which will be his final budget session as governor, Holcomb said he will prioritize education and health care programs in his spending proposal. He said the state can’t afford to overlook any population in terms of geography, demographics or educational attainment when employers are desperate for good employees. Asked about House Speaker Todd Huston’s call for a major overhaul of the state’s high school curriculum, Holcomb said any changes need to be structural rather than taking a scattershot approach. He said many of the types of programs the state needs already are in place in some schools and simply need to be scaled up.

“All INdiana Politics” airs at 9:30 a.m. Sunday on News 8.