By Emily Ketterer
INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Eric Holcomb quietly signed hate crimes legislation into law less than 24 hours after the Indiana Senate approved the final version, ignoring calls from critics to veto the measure because they believe it falls short of protecting all Hoosiers.
There was no news conference, no fanfare. Instead Holcomb’s staff sent a statement to media outlets late Wednesday afternoon announcing that he had signed Senate Enrolled Act 198 into law along with 12 other pieces of legislation.
“Our goal was to achieve a comprehensive law that protects those who are the targets of bias crimes, and we have accomplished just that. We have made progress and taken a strong stand against targeted violence,” Holcomb said. “I am confident our judges will increase punishment for those who commit crimes motivated by bias under this law.”
Gov. Eric Holcomb on Wednesday signed into law SEA 198, hate crimes legislation.
Photo by Bryan Wells, TheStatehouseFile.com
The Anti-Defamation League on Wednesday reiterated its position that the bill does not meet Holcomb’s goal of getting Indiana off the list of five states without a hate crime law because it is too vague.
“As we have consistently stated, ADL does not consider SB 198 to be an adequate hate-crimes law,” said Jessica Gall, co-interim regional director of ADL Midwest. “The failure to explicitly list gender identity, gender or sex is unacceptable.”
But a former Indiana Supreme Court Justice, Frank Sullivan Jr., said in a letter to Holcomb Wednesday that the language in SEA 198 is “legally sufficient and can be used by trial courts across Indiana to impose harsher sentences.”
“Just because a characteristic or trait is not specifically listed does not prevent it from being used to impose a harsher sentence,” Sullivan, a Democrat who was named to the court by Gov. Evan Bayh, wrote in the letter. “To be clear: if a person thinks that under this law he or she can commit a crime with bias due to the victim’s gender or gender identity without risk of a harsher sentence, that person is wrong.”
The short news release announcing Holcomb had signed the bill was in contrast to the public signing event he held on March 25 when he signed into law his first bill of the session—legislation dealing with newborn screenings.
SEA 198 originally dealt with drug sentencing, and the House folded in bias crimes language into the bill on the floor. That move avoided a public committee hearing on the original hate crimes bill that passed the Senate.
SEA 198 will allow a judge to consider in sentencing whether the crime was committed based on a victim’s “perceived characteristic, trait, belief, association or other attribute the court choose.” And it refers to a list already in Indiana law which lists “color, creed, disability, national origin, race, religion, or sexual orientation” as forms of bias, but does not mention age, gender and gender identity.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said in a statement Wednesday that the law is comprehensive.
“Indiana took a historic step forward today as the governor signed the bias crimes bill into law, which strengthens our reputation as a welcoming state for all,” Bosma said. “Lawmakers worked hard to craft legislation to protect all Hoosiers equally and leave no one out.”
Multiple organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Sikh Coalition and Indiana Forward, which represents a number of businesses such as Cummins Inc. and Eli Lilly & Co., have argued that the law will not get Indiana off the list of states without a hate crimes law because the language is too vague.
“Governor Holcomb and Indiana state legislature failed their constituents by not passing a fully inclusive hate crime bill,” said Nikki Singh, the Sikh Coalition policy and advocacy manager in a statement Wednesday.
“While this legislation protects religious minorities, it ignores several of the most vulnerable communities among us by excluding gender, gender identity and age. This bill is not fully inclusive and will unequivocally keep Indiana on the list of states that still do not have meaningful hate crime legislation.”
Tuesday night, shortly after the final vote, Democrats had urged Holcomb to not sign the bill into law because of its failure to include all groups and the quick passage through the House without a committee hearing.
Among the other bills Holcomb signed Wednesday was Bosma’s legislation to bump up the date to make the superintendent of public instruction an appointed position effective to 2021, rather than 2025.
Emily Ketterer is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.