CLARKSVILLE — Amid a wide-ranging question-and-answer session with economic leaders in Southern Indiana on Thursday, Gov. Eric Holcomb revealed that hate crimes legislation will be on his legislative agenda come January.
Holcomb made the announcement at One Southern Indiana's Governor's Luncheon event, also mentioning that he'll roll out his agenda the first week of December ahead of the General Assembly convening Jan. 14 in Indianapolis.
Holcomb called the issue, also referred to as bias crimes, "critically important," and that the topic regularly comes up during economic development-related conversations.
Indiana is one of five states that does not have a hate crimes law.
"To be on a list of five, and not on a list of 46, could make a difference," Holcomb said to more than 150 Southern Indiana stakeholders at the Radisson Louisville North Hotel. "By the way, it's just the right thing to do. It's the founding principles of our country, equality and how we treat one another, that were expressed in our founding documents and philosophy."
Wendy Dant Chesser, president and CEO of 1si, said the organization supports an increase in the enhancement of hate crimes penalties and 1si's advocacy council will recommend to the board of directors to approve support of that position.
Hate crimes legislation was brought up in the last legislative session but no action was taken, and Holcomb said he's overdue to be a part of the solution.
"I was supportive last session but didn't weigh in much," he said. "We need to get this done. It's not about criminalizing thought, it's about actions that occur and holding folks accountable, and standing with victims so they know, and everyone else knows, we'll be standing with them."
Not surprisingly Holcomb touched on several workplace and economic development-related issues in a 30-minute question-and-answer session with Dant Chesser.
From a broad perspective "where we're threatened is population scarcity and skill of our workforce," Holcomb said.
Topics at the luncheon included the next iteration of the Regional Cities Initiative and how to fund it, a holistic approach toward job creation involving businesses, communities and schools, increasing broadband internet access and tackling the opioid epidemic.
When it comes to dealing with the opioid crisis, Holcomb called Clark County a "model" community, citing its proactive approach in addressing prevention, treatment and enforcement, and for bringing key stakeholders together to work on solutions.
Among topics specific to Southern Indiana, in addition to the opioid crisis, Holcomb talked about economic drivers, such as the Regional Cities program and the federal Opportunity Zones grant program.
Southern Indiana missed out on a chunk of $42 million in the inaugural Regional Cities program in 2015, when cash was doled out from the state's tax amnesty program to different regions for specific economic development projects. Local leaders are more involved with the latest go-round, having created a Regional Development Authority.
The Regional Cities Initiative isn't giving out money to RDAs this year, but it could start again in 2019; however, funding from the tax amnesty program will not likely be the source.
"I'm a huge fan of regional cities," Holcomb said. "It is the way of the future. It is how to complement and not compete, or cannibalize, one another's interest. The sum of the parts is truly greater than each individual piece."
Five areas in Clark and Floyd counties have been designated Opportunity Zones, which is based on census tracks, and that provides tax incentives to attract private sector investment to low-income urban and rural communities.
"I have huge, high hopes," Holcomb said, noting that there are 83 cites in Indiana involved in the program. "This could be one of those answers missing for so, so long for all those communities that applied."
Another workforce-related priority for the governor is the Next Level Jobs program, which has created a website that paints a broad picture of Indiana's workplace challenges and achievements. For instance, analysts can see how many people are incarcerated, or how many people have enrolled in college, or the status of Work One programs.
"The bottom line is how do you get the business community, the state and the schools to be sitting here working all together?" Holcomb said. "If we want a different result, we're going to have to do some things differently."