Deep down, Republicans in the Indiana Senate must know this isn’t how government is supposed to work.
When they stripped this session’s hate crimes legislation, Senate Bill 12, of its list of specific hate crime targets, they did so against the wishes of the business community, local governments, most Hoosiers and their own governor.
To make matters worse, they essentially did it in secret, retreating to a closed-door Republican caucus to decide that they would gut a bill with broad support, a bill that had emerged from committee with a 9-1 vote after hours of testimony, almost all of it in support of the bill.
With the legislators who are responsible for the watered-down bill saying little in public about their motives, we’re left to assume the worst—that they stripped it because they’re still hung up on the same issues that produced the damaging Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 2015.
That ill-advised legislation, which was quickly revised to stem the national blowback it caused, gave the state a black eye that business and talent recruiters still contend with. But the attitudes that gave us RFRA are clearly still alive.
How else to explain the aversion to a hate crimes bill that costs nothing and makes a statement that Hoosiers welcome everyone, regardless of race, religion or sexual identity?
Businesses and economic development officials are especially desperate to remove Indiana from the list of only five states that don’t have strong hate crimes laws. As legislators oddly resist joining most of the rest of the country in condemning crimes motivated by hatred for entire classes of people, the state’s presence on that list becomes more pronounced and the challenge for those who work every day to bring money and talent into our state becomes even greater.
With the watered-down hate crimes legislation heading to the House, Gov. Eric Holcomb should come out even more forcefully than he already has to push for the bill in its original form.
Perhaps he wasn’t aggressive enough in arguing for the legislation when it was being considered by the Senate. Fortunately, there’s time for him to affect the outcome as the session heads into its final weeks.
As the governor has said, a vague bill like the one produced by the Senate won’t do much to help economic development officials sell the state to potential partners, including overseas investors who are especially sensitive to suggestions that Indiana isn’t a welcoming place.
When the governor returns from a nine-day trade mission to France, Belgium and Germany, we hope he’ll not just testify in favor of a stronger bill but meet with legislative leaders one on one to emphasize the importance of passing the hate crimes bill that the business community wants.
The Indiana and Indy chambers of commerce and other organizations are also asking their members to make their feelings known at the Statehouse.
If the governor and the many people working to produce a meaningful hate crimes law can’t get the Legislature to budge on the issue, we’ll know we have a problem larger than any single issue.
Democracy itself suffers when our elected representatives work in secret to ignore the will of the people.•
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