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INDIANAPOLIS | Gov. Mike Pence is hinting that he believes Indiana's recent economic growth may eliminate the need for a new state law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Speaking to reporters last week following a bill-signing ceremony, the Republican seemed to suggest Indiana has suffered no long-term ill effects from the March-April "religious freedom" debacle that temporarily made Indiana synonymous with gay hate and prompted boycotts of state businesses and tourism sites.

As a result, further attempts to placate critics of Indiana's policies might not be necessary, he implied.

"I think our economy speaks for itself. Our economy is strong and growing stronger, and that's a testament to the resilience of the people of Indiana and to the great reputation our state enjoys," Pence said.

"We're going to move forward on the policies that are making that a reality, and we'll leave debates about the future for the future."

Indiana's unemployment rate dipped to 4.9 percent in June -- the first time since February 2008 that the rate has come in below 5 percent. Illinois' unemployment rate is 5.9 percent.

"Frankly, the last three months have been some of the strongest periods of economic growth that we've had in recent memory," Pence said.

When asked whether he views the need for an anti-discrimination law solely through an economic lens, the governor boasted that since he took office in 2013 more than 110,000 new jobs have been created, and Hoosier businesses this year already have promised to invest $3 billion in the state.

"I really do believe that we found a way through that difficult period last spring to calm the waters, and the facts speak for themselves: Indiana's economy is strong and growing stronger," Pence said.

"Hoosiers may be assured that I'm going to continue to advance the policies and the practices that are building on Indiana's story and telling Indiana's story."

That story took a dark turn in March when the Republican-controlled General Assembly approved and Pence signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which many Americans believed licensed discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Following a week of national outrage directed at Indiana, Hoosier lawmakers on April 2 enacted a RFRA "fix" prohibiting businesses from using the law to deny services based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

However, so long as a person or business does not make a religious freedom claim, gays and lesbians in Indiana are otherwise not protected from discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations or any other venue.

Democratic lawmakers have declared passing a sexual orientation and gender identity anti-discrimination law their top priority when the 2016 legislative session convenes in January. A recent public opinion poll found a majority of Hoosiers support the proposal.

Drew Anderson, spokesman for the Indiana Democratic Party, said Pence's refusal to acknowledge an anti-discrimination law is needed shows the governor is out of touch.

"Simply put, the RFRA fix has not worked, Pence's economy is a smokescreen to hide a divided economic state, and when it comes to solving today's problems, Pence would rather put his ideology ahead of the well-being of Indiana," Anderson said.


Statehouse Bureau Chief

Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.