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Vetoed trans sports bill leaves legislature poised for an override vote

Gov. Eric Holcomb (above) has vetoed controversial trans sports legislation, but the Republican supermajority is already plotting to resurrect it against the wishes of the governor.

Holcomb vetoed House Enrolled Act 1041, the act that would have barred transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports, on Monday. Holcomb’s action came at the last minute before it would have automatically passed without a signature Tuesday.

In the statement Holcomb released explaining the veto, he said that if the goal of the legislation is to provide a consistent state policy regarding the fairness of K-12 sports, it falls short.

He also pointed to the litigation happening in other states that have passed similar legislation and said while he supports the cause of ensuring girls’ sports are fair, there is no proof that the law is necessary. The Indiana High School Athletic Association already has a process in place for transgender athletes wishing to compete on all-female teams, which Holcomb said hasn’t been utilized in its decade of existence.

On May 24, the legislature will vote to override the veto, House Speaker Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers, confirmed. The legislature just needs a simple majority to override the veto and several Republicans in the supermajority have already indicated they are in favor.

“The fundamental goal of this legislation is to protect competition in girls’ sports, and House Republicans will vote to override this veto when lawmakers meet again on May 24,” Huston said in a statement.

The bill passed nearly along party lines, leaving Holcomb at odds with his Republican counterparts in the legislature. But Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Purdue University Fort Wayne, said it was the most conservative decision the governor could make. He explained how he believes Holcomb viewed the legislation.

“This is not something that happened in Indiana, so we don’t need the government to intervene, and that’s a very conservative position,” Downs said. “And then also there are court cases and maybe we should just wait and see what those court cases have to say before we do something.”

Downs said that in Indiana, since just a simple majority is needed to override a veto, governors use them to make a convincing argument against the act or to give the legislature more time to think the legislation through.

“If it’s not a problem, don’t make a law to address it,” Downs said. “I think he does think that, I think a lot of  conservatives think that, so he will score points for that reason.”

Democrats warned the legislation could cause harm to the state’s image on the business scene, similar to Mike Pence’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 2015. The act allowed vendors to deny services to LGBTQ couples. RFRA was opposed by companies and organizations like Apple and the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which is headquartered in Indianapolis. An amendment later ensured LGBTQ people weren’t denied services based on their identities.

Unlike Pence, Holcomb has largely stayed out of social issues in favor of less government intervention.

“He’s a social conservative, but the question is, ‘How much is government supposed to be engaging in those things?’” Downs said. “And clearly, Mike Pence took a far more aggressive position on those issues.”

Holcomb has been rumored to be vying for a U.S. Senate seat, but Downs said this move should not be taken as a political one.

“He’ll lose some points because, you know, he’s quote, ‘not on the right side of the transgender sports issue,’” Downs said. “But he probably doesn’t have a lot of those votes with him anyway because those would be much more conservative than him.”

The legislation received hours of testimony, pushback from LGBTQ rights groups, and several protests hosted by the Indiana American Civil Liberties Union.

The Indiana ACLU said it would do everything it could to prevent the legislation from going into effect.

Taylor Wooten is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.