Indiana will remain one of just five states without a hate crimes law after Republican Senate leaders announced Tuesday they were sidelining a bill that targeted crimes motivated by bias.
Advocates say the move could deal a blow to Indianapolis' bid to land a new Amazon headquarters after unexpectedly making the shortlist of 20 finalists.
The Republican Statehouse majorities, however, could not overcome opposition within their ranks.
"It's a matter of peoples' opinions. We just couldn't come to consensus," Republican Senate leader David Long of Fort Wayne, said at a press conference announcing the effort was dead for the year. Later he added: "I'm the leader, but I'm not the dictator."
A recent poll conducted by Ball State University found that 65 percent of Indiana residents support the creation of a hate crimes law. But a deep thread of social conservatism runs throughout the Statehouse, and lawmakers faced pressure from activists who argue that a hate crimes law would create a special protected class of victims.
A provision that would have protected transgender people was a particular sticking point.
The bill by Republican Sen. Susan Glick would have specifically stated in law that a judge could take into account during sentencing whether a crime was motivated by race, religion, color, sex, gender identity, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation or ethnicity.
It also would have required such crimes to be reported to the FBI. Currently, Indiana law enforcement agencies are not required to do so.
"When it comes to hate, when it comes to bias, I think it's very important that we protect all of our citizens," said Glick, a former LaGrange County prosecutor. "I think it's important that Hoosiers send that message."
Anecdotal accounts suggest instances of bias crimes are on the rise in Indiana.
Aside from Indiana, Georgia, Arkansas, Wyoming and South Carolina also lack hate crimes laws. In Georgia, where Atlanta is also on the Amazon shortlist, legislation to create a hate crimes law is still alive in the Legislature.
In Indiana, hate crimes bills have repeatedly failed to advance, but advocates initially expressed optimism that this year would be different. That's because for the first time Long, Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma and GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb signaled a willingness to support such legislation.
The change of opinion came in the wake of clashes between white supremacists and counter demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one woman dead in August.
"I said at the very outset that I was open to the idea of a hate crimes bill. I still am," Holcomb said in a statement on Tuesday. "But, for any progress to be made, there's going to have to be consensus among lawmakers."
Democrats were quick to blame Republicans, while specifically singling out Holcomb, who they accused of tepid leadership.
"Statehouse Republicans are more than willing to jeopardize Indianapolis' shot at landing Amazon's second headquarters," Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody said in a statement. "Call this what it is: a shameful disappearing act and failure of leadership from the governor."
Democratic Sen. Greg Taylor, of Indianapolis, similarly ripped the GOP.
"What we did today was say to companies like Amazon … 'We don't need your business, we don't need your economic development, we don't need your jobs,'" said Taylor, who is African American. "We are comfortable with the status quo."
Republicans, meanwhile, pointed to a provision in existing state law that allows a judge to consider any special circumstance during sentencing. That, combined with existing court precedent, means a judge could indeed consider crimes motivated by hatred during sentencing, they argue.
But supporters say Indiana has a lingering reputation for intolerance. In 2015, then-Gov. Mike Pence signed a religious freedom law that critics said would create a legal defense for businesses that objected to serving gay people. That provoked a national backlash and led to boycott threats, which prompted lawmakers to make changes to the law.
Long was dismissive of concerns that the bill's failure could imperil Indianapolis' Amazon bid.
"I really don't think it should affect anything," said Long. "Nor do I think we should tailor all of our legislation in hopes that a company would locate here."