IN Focus: Pence won’t support legislation that diminishes religious freedom

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INDIANAPOLIS (January 17, 2016) - Gov. Mike Pence didn’t stray from his conservative and religious values Tuesday night in the State of the State address, when publicly discussing whether lawmakers should add protections for LGBT Hoosiers in the state’s civil rights code.

“I’m aware there’s at least one more issue getting attention in this session of the General Assembly,” Pence said near the end of his speech.

Lawmakers were briefed Tuesday afternoon on his position, as they prepare to debate whether to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s civil rights code.

“Over the past few months, I’ve studied this issue very carefully,” Pence said.

Focusing heavily on the Indiana constitution, the governor asked lawmakers whether it’s necessary or even possible to add new protections for LGBT Hoosiers while maintaining religious freedom.

But the governor was careful to neither endorse nor exclude any specific legislation that has already been filed by Senate Republicans.

“So as you go about your work on this and other issues, know that I will always give careful consideration to any bill that you send me,” he said. “But legislation must be consistent with the Indiana Constitution. I will not support any bill that diminishes the religious freedom or Hoosiers or interferes with the constitutional rights of our citizens to live out their beliefs in worship, service or work."

Focusing mainly on jobs, education and transportation, Pence pushed lawmakers to pass his $1 billion transportation plan, publicly critical of a House GOP proposal released Monday that would increase the state’s gas tax.

“I think if you’ve got 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,” he said.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said after the speech he anticipated the governor's position.

“We’ll work through it,” he said. “We’ve disagreed on issues, not just with this governor but prior governors.”

Overall, Democrats called the speech disappointing, even disturbing.

“It was storytelling that was veiling cynicism,” said House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City.

Speaking hours before President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address, the governor’s message to the president was clear, in response to Obama’s comments on gun control and Indiana’s gun laws.

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

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