Hate crimes bill heads to governor for signature

By Emily Ketterer

INDIANAPOLIS — Hate crimes legislation is on its way to Gov. Eric Holcomb, who said Tuesday he will sign it into law despite criticisms that the language isn’t specific enough.

The Senate voted 34-14 to concur on Senate Bill 198, which was originally a drug sentencing bill. Last week, the House folded in bias crimes language that would 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 leaves off age, gender and gender identity.

This amendment was added in the House, instead of at a public committee hearing on the original bill that passed out of the Senate, Senate Bill 12.

Holcomb originally said he wanted a hate crimes bill with a comprehensive list. When the Senate passed SB 12 that mentioned only unspecified bias as a factor judge could consider in sentencing, he said it wasn’t adequate to get Indiana off the list of five states without a hate crimes law.

But minutes after the Senate voted to approve this version, Holcomb issued a statement lauding it and saying he will sign it into law as soon as it reaches his desk.

“Months ago, I decided to make protecting Hoosiers against bias crimes a key part of my 2019 legislative agenda,” Holcomb said. “Those targeted for crimes because of color, creed, disability, national origin, race, religion or sexual orientation are protected. But this new law goes further. It also will cover bias crimes committed because of other traits and characteristics, such as gender, or gender identity, or sex, or age, and other commonly targeted groups.”

Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, criticized Holcomb for his lack of leadership on the issue and said he “flip flopped” as he abandoned his commitment on passing inclusive legislation. She told him he needed to “rein in” the members of his Republican party to get the job done.

“Shame on you Gov. Holcomb,” Breaux said.

Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, criticized the House for bypassing public input.

Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, urging fellow legislators to vote no on Senate Bill 198
Photo by Andrew Longstreth TheStateHouseFile.com

“What happened in the House was obnoxious, cowardly, disrespectful misuse of the system,” she said. “It could have been taken from the playbook on how to minimize debate. There was no committee hearing. There was no committee debate. Instead it was slipped in a second-reading amendment like a thief in the night.”

She said at least the Senate followed the legislative process when it passed out the original bill, even when the list of protected classes was stripped out.

Sen. Ron Alting of Lafayette was the only Republican to speak against the bill. In an emotional speech, he told the senators he prays this language will protect everyone Indiana, but he would not vote for it.

“We should never have to compromise on protection of all people,” Alting said. “It has to be everyone in it or I won’t support it.

Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, argues SB 198 bias crimes legislation in Indiana doesn’t go far enough.
Photo by Andrew Longstreth TheStateHouseFile.com

Failing to include gender identity has brought criticism to the GOP for not recognizing transgender people. The sole openly gay legislator in the General Assembly, Sen. J.D. Ford, D-Indianapolis, said by voting for SB 198, lawmakers are saying transgender people and members of the LGBTQ community don’t matter.

“Do not applaud this false flag,” Ford said. “This is a hate bill. An ageist, sexist, transphobic hate bill.”

Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores, authored the original hate crimes bill, SB 12, and in the past said the list of protected classes was “not negotiable.” He also authored SB 198 and said Tuesday that the current language includes everyone and is phrased in a way that the state should not have to make changes in years to come.

“I understand it’s not the whole list,” Bohacek said. “This is not a racist bill, this is not a homophobic bill.”

While the Indiana Republican Party celebrated the passage, saying it would get Indiana off the list of five states with no hate crimes bill, the Anti-Defamation League – one of the main civil rights groups that keeps the list – has said the language in SB 198 won’t do the job.

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

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