Holcomb vetoes antisemitism compromise, signs bill weakening Public Access Counselor

Gov. Eric Holcomb signs a proclamation on antisemitism Monday after he vetoed a bill he said didn’t go far enough. (Photo from X)
By Whitney Downard
Indiana Capital Chronicle

INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Eric Holcomb on Monday opted to issue his first — and last — veto of the session on House Bill 1002, a priority proposal to further define antisemitism, particularly in academic settings, citing concerns with a compromise reached in the final hours of session.

He also signed a bill that would make it easier to fire the Public Access Counselor and limit what the office can use in interpreting the law.

It is his eighth and final veto of his tenure as governor.

“While I applaud the General Assembly’s effort to address and define antisemitism, I cannot agree with the outcome,” Holcomb said in a statement.  “The language that emerged in the final days of the legislative session fails to incorporate the entire International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition and its important contemporary examples. Additionally, the confusing language included in the bill could be read to exclude those examples therefore I must veto (it).”

Senators expressed concerns over using an outside entity’s definition of antisemitism in state law and critics targeted the included “contemporary examples” of antisemitism, saying they were overly broad and limited free speech. Following the compromise, which included a dated IHRA definition but no examples, all but one member of the General Assembly voted in favor of it.

The examples include several references to Israel that the bill did not have. Opponents were concerned that criticizing the government of Israel would amount of antisemitism under the definition.

Holcomb instead issued a signed proclamation condemning “all forms of antisemitism” that includes the full IHRA definition and examples — something the Indiana Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) thanked him for doing.

“We appreciate that his proclamation clarifies these concerns and affirms that Indiana endorses the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism including the reference to the specifically identified examples of contemporary antisemitism,” the organization said in a statement.

“JCRC will work diligently with members of the Indiana General Assembly, executive agencies, statewide educational institutions, and statewide educational organizations to ensure that the guidance of Governor Holcomb’s proclamation is correctly applied to identify and confront antisemitism and meet the needs of Jewish students in K-12 and higher educational settings,” the statement said.

The JRCR pulled its support for the bill after senators stripped out the contemporary examples but reinstated it for the compromise, which was one of the last bills of the 2024 session.

House Speaker Todd Huston said he understood Holcomb’s actions in a statement and supported the proclamation.

“As the compromised bill continued to be scrutinized after passage, we recognized that more clarity is needed,” said Huston, R-Fishers. “(Holcomb) made a strong statement in declaring Indiana’s support for our Jewish brothers and sisters.”

Rep. Chris Jeter, the bill’s author, said he’d been working on the bill for years “after hearing concerns from Indiana’s Jewish community about antisemitic concepts being taught in Hoosier classrooms.” In 2023, the proposal passed the House but never got a hearing in the Senate.

“Our Jewish students need to feel safe and welcome in our K-12 schools and college campuses, and I believe the House-passed version of this bill accomplished that goal. After we worked alongside Jewish organizations and our Senate colleagues to find middle ground and pass legislation, concerns arose about the need for further clarity to ensure the strongest protections are in place. I support the governor’s proclamation, which I believe captures the original intent of House Bill 1002,” said Jeter, R-Fishers.

Additionally, Holcomb signed a controversial measure, House Enrolled Act 1338, that would weaken the role of the Public Access Counselor to an “at-will” position that critics worry will expose the position to political whims. Senators added the language in the final days of session to a bill related to decorum in public meetings.

“Today, I signed HEA 1338 to provide local government entities across our state with the ability to better control public meetings when faced with unruly, disruptive and disorderly behavior. Concerns raised regarding the provisions affecting the Office of Public Access Counselor were taken into account but ultimately, in my opinion, muted by the fact that judicial review of the office’s decisions is left untouched and that the governor retains the ability to appoint the position in the future.”

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The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to giving Hoosiers a comprehensive look inside state government, policy and elections. The site combines daily coverage with in-depth scrutiny, political awareness and insightful commentary.

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