Supporters of establishing a hate crimes law in Indiana are planning a new push for it during next year's state legislative session, although a key lawmaker continues to say it is unnecessary.
State Rep. Gregory Porter, D-Indianapolis, has been advocating for at least 15 years for legislation to increase penalties for crimes motivated by biases, including race, gender and religion.
Among those joining Porter in his new push are the Indianapolis Urban League civil rights group, the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council and Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry.
"We have a coalition of individuals saying enough is enough," Porter told The Indianapolis Star. "These are issues we need to address."
A bill for a hate crimes law that Porter introduced during this year's legislative session allowed for potentially longer prison sentences if the attacker was convicted of targeting a victim based on factors including race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability. The bill didn't receive a vote in the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee.
Republican Rep. Thomas Washburne of Evansville, the committee's chairman, told The Associated Press he doesn't believe the motivation for a crime should change how a person is prosecuted.
"It doesn't matter that you're a poor person that's been beat up, or a woman that's been beat up, or what race you are that's been beat up," he said. "It's still the same crime."
Indiana is among only five states without a hate crime law, according to the New York-based Anti-Defamation League. The others are Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina and Wyoming.
"This isn't cutting edge," Porter said. "This is really catch-up."
The new push comes as authorities are investigating a weekend attack at a Bloomington cafe in which a 19-year-old Indiana University student is accused of trying to remove a Muslim woman's headscarf and shouting racial slurs.
Curry said crimes that are motivated by hate and bias ought to face greater penalties.
"We should enact (the law) in Indiana to send a message that we as a community do not accept that sort of behavior," Curry told WISH-TV.
Hate crimes are meant to send a message of intimidation to the individual and to the community, said Miriam Zeidman, Midwest civil rights counsel for the Anti-Defamation League.
"It not only harms that person and the group of people who share that person's characteristic, but it also causes unique harm to the entire community at large," she said.