Pence promises to protect religious freedom in State of the State 

click to enlarge Gov. Mike Pence preparing to give the 2016 State of the State address. - PHOTO BY SHAYLA JONES
  • Gov. Mike Pence preparing to give the 2016 State of the State address.
  • Photo by Shayla Jones

By Shelby Mullis

In his fourth State of the State address on Tuesday evening, Gov. Mike Pence touted 2015 as “a year of progress” for the state of Indiana, but supporters of LGBT rights were left frustrated.

“I will not support any bill that diminishes the religious freedom of Hoosiers or that interferes with the Constitutional rights of our citizens to live out their beliefs in worship, service or work,” Pence said.

Pence said he will give careful consideration to all bills and that legislation must remain consistent with the Indiana constitution.

“While Hoosiers are divided over how or even whether to change our civil rights laws, I think there are two things we can all agree on: Hoosiers do not tolerate discrimination against anybody, and Hoosiers cherish faith and the freedoms enshrined in our constitution,” Pence said.

While Pence waited until the end of his speech to address LGBT rights, he wasted no time taking shots at President Barack Obama’s stance on gun control.

“Indiana will always defend the right to keep and bear arms. Mr. President, please stop blaming our gun laws for violence in Chicago,” Pence said. “Hoosiers are not the cause of crime in your hometown — criminals are.”

Another key piece of the governor’s address included the unveiling of a new economic plan that encourages the building of a new port.

“I have called upon the Ports of Indiana to vigorously explore the building of a fourth port in the far southeastern part of our state, which could unleash enormous economic investment throughout the southeast region of our state,” Pence said.

This economic investment is a part of Pence’s initiative to invest in regional growth through the Regional Cities Initiative.

Pence’s infrastructure plan also includes $1 billion to improve state roads and bridges over the next four years and he agreed to “follow the lead” of Sen. David Long, R-Fort Wayne, and Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, in an effort to provide an additional $400 million for local roads – all without raising taxes.

“I think when you have money in the bank and the best credit rating in America, the last place you should look to pay for roads and bridges is the wallets and pocketbooks of hardworking Hoosiers,” Pence said.

Pence also advocated taking a step back from ISTEP and improving the test used to annually measure students and schools, but stopped short of describing an exact plan for overhauling the test. Instead, he focused on making sure teachers and schools are not negatively impacted by last year’s ISTEP scores.

“Leaders in both parties and the Department of Education are working with our administration, and I promise you we will make sure the 2015 test scores fairly reflect the performance of our schools and will not affect teacher bonuses or compensation,” Pence said.

Pence dedicated a significant portion of the speech to celebrate the accomplishments of 2015, including tax cuts, a spike in Indiana’s graduation rate, the investment of more than $1 billion in transportation projects and the launch of the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0.

“To keep Indiana growing, we must focus on the challenges before us to strengthen our economy, support our schools, improve our roads and better the health of Hoosiers,” Pence said. “For a growing economy, we have to keep taxes low and invest in infrastructure.”

Pence remains optimistic for the future, adding that the best days for Indiana are ahead.

“If we will but keep faith with the vision, ideals, characters and freedoms our founders built this state upon 200 years ago, I know our third century will be the greatest Indiana century yet.”

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