Indiana’s governor on Monday vetoed a bill banning transgender females from participating in girls school sports while signing another eliminating the state’s permit requirement to carry handguns in public.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb’s decisions come after both measures faced intense opposition before being approved by the GOP-dominated legislature that embraced what have become a pair of conservative causes across the country.
The governor stayed on the sidelines as legislators debated both issues and made his decisions just before his Tuesday deadline to act.
Opponents of the transgender sports bill argued it was a bigoted response to a problem that doesn’t exist, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana saying it planned a lawsuit against what it called “hateful legislation.”
Republican sponsors of the bill said it was needed to protect the integrity of female sports and opportunities for girls to gain college athletic scholarship but pointed out no instances in the state of girls being outperformed by transgender athletes.
Holcomb signaled support for the bill last month but said in his veto letter that the legislation “falls short” of providing a consistent statewide policy for what he called “fairness in K-12 sports.”
Holcomb also pointed to the Indiana High School Athletic Association, which has a policy covering transgender students wanting to play sports that match their gender identity and has said it has had no transgender girls finalize a request to play on girls team.
“The presumption of the policy laid out in HEA 1041 is that there is an existing problem in K-12 sports in Indiana that requires further state government intervention,” Holcomb said in his letter. “It implies that the goals of consistency and fairness in competitive female sports are not currently being met. After thorough review, I find no evidence to support either claim even if I support the effort overall.”
Indiana lawmakers can override the governor’s veto with simple majorities in both the House and Senate. A veto override vote could happen as soon as May 24, which legislative leaders have scheduled as a tentative one-day meeting.
The Indiana law would prohibit K-12 students who were born male but who identify as female from participating in a sport or on an athletic team that is designated for women or girls. But it wouldn’t prevent students who identify as female or transgender men from playing on men’s sports teams.
Eleven other Republican-led states have adopted such laws that political observers describe as a classic “wedge issue” to motivate conservative supporters after the governors in Iowa and South Dakota signed their bans in recent weeks.
Holcomb’s veto comes seven years after Indiana faced a national uproar over a religious objections law signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence which opponents maintained could be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. The Republican-dominated Legislature quickly made revisions blocking its use as a legal defense for refusing to provide services and preventing the law from overriding local ordinances with LGBT protections.
Democrats argued Republican lawmakers were following a national conservative “culture war” with the transgender girls sports ban.
“Signing House Bill 1041 into law would have put the lives of our children in jeopardy,” state Democratic Party Chairman Mike Schmuhl said. “However, this unnecessary debate has set a tone with kids that being transgender means something is wrong with them.”
In signing the handgun permit requirement repeal, Holcomb went against the vocal opposition of his state police superintendent to the further loosening of the state’s lenient firearms laws.
The permit repeal, called “constitutional carry” by gun-rights supporters in reference to the Second Amendment, was criticized by major law enforcement groups who argued eliminating the permit system would endanger officers by stripping them of a screening tool for quickly identifying dangerous people who shouldn’t have guns.
At least 21 other states already allow residents to carry handguns without permit — and Ohio’s Republican governor signed a similar bill last week.
Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter joined leaders of the state’s Fraternal Order of Police, police chiefs association and county prosecutors association in speaking out against the change.
Carter, wearing his state police uniform, stood in the back of the Senate chamber as the bill was being debated. He said after the vote that approval of the measure “does not support law enforcement — period.”
Holcomb said in a statement that the permit repeal bill “entrusts Hoosiers who can lawfully carry a handgun to responsibly do so within our state.”
“It’s important to note that if a person is prohibited, under federal or state laws, from possessing a firearm before this law goes into effect, that person will still be prohibited,” Holcomb said.
The firearms law, which will take effect July 1, will allow anyone age 18 or older to carry a handgun in public except for reasons such as having a felony conviction, facing a restraining order from a court or having a dangerous mental illness. Supporters argue the permit requirement undermines Second Amendment protections by forcing law-abiding citizens to undergo police fingerprinting and background checks.
Carter, the former elected Republican sheriff in central Indiana’s Hamilton County who was first appointed state police superintendent by Pence in 2013, said in a statement he would “work with law enforcement leaders across our state to make necessary changes to firearms enforcement as well as identifying the best way to identify individuals who are not allowed to carry a firearm as defined by Indiana statute.”