Indiana Senate committee approves ‘crime-reduction’ bills

An Indiana Senate committee on Tuesday approved a set of bills intended to fight crime that among other things would impose harsher sentences for violent offenders and provide funding for police overtime.

Corrections and Criminal Law committee members passed the four Republican-backed bills, even as the committee's top Democrat said he had been shut out of bill discussions and walked out of the hearing.

The "crime-reduction package" comes in the wake of recent police shootings in the state and an increase in homicides in Indianapolis. Each bill would address specific law enforcement and criminal justice issues, including limiting record expungement for repeat offenders, increasing police funding and creating harsher sentencing for violent crimes.

One measure sponsored by committee chairman Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, would provide an additional 20-year sentence for crimes where a gun was pointed at or used on a police officer.

"If someone is willing to fire at a police officer, they're willing to shoot me," Young said. "They should pay the penalty for their action."

Another would give the state's three most populous counties — Marion, Lake and Allen — $200,000 each to cover the overtime costs for officers assigned to high-crime areas.

Sen. Susan Glick, R-LaGrange, voted in favor of the bill, but said she would rather see the state extend funding to other counties.

"Once again, we're pouring all the money in one place," Glick said.

The package also included a proposal that would expand the list of offenses that qualify for sentencing enhancement. Another bill would stop felons with two or more weapon-related convictions from getting those crimes removed from their record.

Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, said some the proposals cast too wide of a net on what is considered a violent crime. Landis said that could lead to unreasonable prison sentences for lower-level crimes.

Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, said he disagrees with how lawmakers chose to fight crime, since the bills don't consider the overpopulation of Indiana prisons or rehabilitation services for previous felons. Taylor said he was being excluded from bill discussions that would directly impact his high-crime district and walked out of the hearing.

"My kids are dying, and you keep leaving me out," he said. "We have one supermajority, and they can do whatever they want to do."

Young said everyone, including the public, was able to participate in the discussions, and if Taylor had major concerns he could have contacted lawmakers personally.

"He didn't have to wait for the committee hearing to express them," Young said.

Three of the proposals will advance to the full Senate. The police funding bill must first clear the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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