INDIANAPOLIS (AP/WLFI) — Top Indiana Democratic lawmakers say Gov. Eric Holcomb is going in the right direction on trying to boost teacher pay and pushing for a state hate crimes law, but still has more work to do.
The Republican governor used his State of the State speech Tuesday evening to introduce a plan for using $140 million in state funds to pay off teacher pension obligations owed by school districts to free up their money for teacher salary increases.
The extra money would amount to about 1-percent more funding to Indiana school districts, which are receiving an estimated $7.16 billion in state funding this school year.
He says it would continue to produce savings for years to come.
"I believe local school districts should allocate 100 percent of the $140 million to increasing teacher paychecks," said Holcomb."
As of now there would be no mandate to use that money strictly for teacher pay. The governor is also creating a commission to identify more ways to give teachers more money.
Holcomb also renewed his support for Indiana joining 45 other state with hate crimes laws. At Tuesday's State of the State address, he said the new law should follow the state's employee anti-harassment policy. That includes sexual orientation and gender identity.
Repeated efforts for an Indiana law have failed amid fierce opposition from conservatives. They maintain it would unfairly create specially-protected classes of victims and wrongly restrict free speech.
Indiana is one of five states without a bias crimes law, but Holcomb told the Republican-dominated Legislature that Indiana needs to move off that list.
"Businesses interested in Indiana care about this issue, but it's not just about business," said Holcomb. "At heart, this has to do with people's dignity and how we treat one another."
Those opposing a specific hate crime law are from the governor's own party, while democrats are strongly supporting it. Many Republican legislators didn’t join a standing ovation when Holcomb called for a hate crimes law. Senate Democratic leader Tim Lanane says Holcomb will face overcoming opposition among conservative Republican lawmakers.
Lanane says Holcomb’s school funding proposal is a good start and shows that money can be found to help give raises to teachers.