Holcomb casts doubts on antisemitism ban, signs happy hour bill

The governor also weighed in on the race to succeed him and several remaining bills.

By: - March 14, 2024 5:09 pm

From left to right: Sen. Justin Busch, Reps. Jake Teshka and Ethan Manning, and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb celebrate legislation legalizing happy hours at the Whistle Stop Inn in Indianapolis, Indiana on March 14, 2024. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Gov. Eric Holcomb on Thursday strongly questioned a bill defining and banning antisemitism within the state’s public education system.

He spoke to reporters after signing a bill legalizing happy hours and carry-out alcohol. And he weighed in on the ongoing race to succeed him as governor, as well as other bills left to sign: on public access, a firearms lawsuit and more.

House and Senate lawmakers struck a last-day compromise on House Enrolled Act 1002, which adopts the core International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism.

Holcomb indicated that compromise is crumbling.

“In the last 24 hours and maybe even late into Friday night, things have changed since then,” he told reporters. “And I want to make sure whatever we do we get it right. And we don’t just do it to do it.”

People “far and wide” — including from outside the state — have contacted him with concerns, Holcomb said.

That’s because, after hours of discussion and negotiations, the legislation excludes the working definition’s 11 contentious “contemporary examples” of antisemitism, which include references to Israel.

Holcomb noted that 35 other states have adopted the full definition, and that leaving out the examples would make Indiana an “outlier.”

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signs a happy hour bill into law at the Whistle Stop Inn in Indianapolis, Indiana on March 14, 2024. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

“I want to make sure there’s no ambiguity whatsoever in what statement Indiana makes to not only our own citizens first and foremost, but to the rest of the world,” he said.

However, the Indiana Muslim Advocacy Network countered Friday that just nine other states have put the definition, examples included, into their codes. Another 18 have adopted the definition via executive order, proclamation or resolution, but at least 10 of them excluded the examples, according to research compiled by the organization.

Members of the Hoosier Jewish community said the examples need to be codified, but critics maintained they’re overly broad and limit free speech.

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita on Tuesday called on Holcomb to veto the bill, which he dubbed a “toothless mess.”

So did the Jewish American Affairs Committee of Indiana, which said it drafted the original bill. But the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council said last week that it approved of the bill and believed the examples were incorporated “by reference.”

Maliha Zafar, the executive director of the Indiana Muslim Advocacy Network, urged Holcomb to sign the legislation into law in an email Friday.

“… multiple Hoosier communities came together to work on a piece of legislation that would help define antisemitism for our Jewish communities without restricting freedom of speech for those advocating for Palestinian human rights,” she wrote.

Indiana law already bans discrimination on the basis of race and “creed,” which means religion. The legislation specifies that antisemitism — bias against Jewish people — is religious discrimination and is not allowed within the public education system.

Happy hours become law

Holcomb was at Indianapolis’ Whistle Stop Inn on Thursday for a celebratory signing of legislation legalizing happy hours and carry-out alcohol.

He praised lawmakers, with several who worked on the bill standing beside him in the warm, crowded pub.

“But this is really about the consumer and the small business person who is grinding it out every single day,” Holcomb said.

It doesn’t go into effect just yet.

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“July 1, happy days are here again,” he quipped from behind the bar, amid clapping.

Lawmakers decades ago banned such temporary sales, which are typically timed for just after the workday, to crack down on drunk driving. But Holcomb brushed off concerns in comments to reporters.

“I was tempted to say a governor, a state senator and two (representatives), walked into a bar and let you finish the rest of the joke,” he said. “But for today, this is no joke. This is about empowering businesses to serve responsibly.”

He also called on customers to drink responsibly — including by ordering food — and to proactively make “smart” transportation plans.

Holcomb talks governor’s race, remaining bills

Holcomb, who’s term-limited, has resisted endorsing one of the six Republicans running to replace him. A Democrat and Libertarian are also in the mix.

GOP candidates, he said, have espoused similar campaign rhetoric — but haven’t offered many details on subjects that lawmakers “grapple with” or that eventually land on the governor’s desk.

Families with medically complex children protest at Gov. Eric Holcomb’s signing of a happy hour bill at the Whistle Stop Inn in Indianapolis, Indiana on March 14, 2024. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

He said he wanted to hear more about community and economic development, long-term infrastructure plans, mental health, broadband, trails and Medicaid programs that led to a recent $1 billion forecasting error.

Families who have resisted proposed cuts to a caretaking program for medically complex children protested Holcomb’s appearance from outside the pub Thursday.

“I’ve heard many (candidates) say these are bold ideas. … It’s very important to have a vision, (but) more so to have the mission, the plans, to actually realize that vision,” Holcomb said. “That’s what I hope is shared because that will help whoever the next governor is carry out the plan of the day.”

He also gave some insight into his plans for some his final yet-to-be-signed proposals:

  • House Enrolled Act 1199, altering an Indianapolis-based taxing district: Holcomb said he’s “listening to a number of community leaders” but added, “I think know where I am on this bill.” The decision could come before Monday, he said.
  • House Enrolled Act 1235, ending a long-running local lawsuit against firearm manufacturers: He said he’s read “every word” that Gary Mayor Eddie Melton has sent, but that it is “appropriate” for lawmakers to intervene in the active litigation. Holcomb added that he’ll make a decision that he’s “willing to defend.”
  • House Enrolled Act 1338, constraining the state’s public access chief: Holcomb said he would’ve preferred “more robust discussion” on the late-stage changes, but wasn’t worried about “politicization” of the position. He said he hadn’t made a final decision.
  • He wasn’t asked about House Bill 1183, which limits “foreign adversary” land buys.

Update: This article has been updated with comments from the Indiana Muslim Advocacy Network.

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Leslie Bonilla Muñiz
Leslie Bonilla Muñiz

Leslie covers state government for the Indiana Capital Chronicle with emphases on elections, infrastructure and transportation. She previously covered city-county government for the Indianapolis Business Journal. She has also reported on local, national and international news for the Chicago Tribune, Voice of America and more. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

Indiana Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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