Indiana House advances hate crimes bill that has mixed support

The Indiana House on Tuesday approved a hate crimes bill that is receiving mixed support from the business community.

The House voted 57-39 to approve it, with nine Republicans joining all of the Democrats. Indianapolis Republican Rep. Mike Speedy was one of the nine.

The vote comes a day after House Republicans, who have supermajority control of the chamber, inserted hate crimes language into an unrelated bill. Senate Bill 198 initially only dealt with prison drug offenses, but the amendment added Monday would make defendants eligible for stronger penalties if their crimes were motivated by a victim's color, creed, disability, national origin, race, religion or sexual orientation.

Business advocacy groups Indiana Forward and Indiana Competes argue that the bill is not good enough because it doesn't explicitly include victims targeted for their age, sex, ancestry or gender identity. But the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, which also lobbied for a bias crimes bill this year, said it would support the bill even though it considered the legislation less than perfect.

Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, who authored one of the hate crimes bills with a list that those business groups advocated for, said he supports the bill because the thinks it’s the best option.

“I myself am realistic,” Cook said. “This is a tough decision for lots of reasons and lots of individuals.”

Gov. Eric Holcomb, who made it a priority to get Indiana off the list of five states without a hate crimes law and initially urged lawmakers to use language that includes gender identity, issued a statement Monday applauding the action by House Republicans. But, on Tuesday, Holcomb seemed to walk back that comment and suggested that the fight wasn’t over.

Holcomb told reporters on Tuesday morning that the debate over hate crimes isn’t over and the legislation could still be amended to include a broader list of victim categories. “We have five weeks left to be persuasive about what we prefer," Holcomb said, according to a story at WFYI.org. "This is not a one-day scenario.”

Groups that were initially opposed to hate crimes legislation—the American Family Association of Indiana and the Indiana Family Institute—have also split on the new language. The Indiana Family Institute is opposed to it, while the American Family Association of Indiana supports it.

Earlier this year, the Senate approved Senate Bill 12, which would have made crimes motivated by bias eligible for stronger penalties. But that legislation didn’t define bias or include a specific list of victim categories—a sticking point for Democrats and Holcomb. The bill initially included a list, but Senate Republicans stripped it from the language before final passage.
 
SB 12 was assigned to the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee, but it did not receive a hearing. House Speaker Brian Bosma said Monday after bias crimes language was amended into SB 198 that he didn’t believe SB 12 would have passed out of committee.
 
The amendment to SB 198 that was introduced Monday by Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, doesn't actually list any victim categories. Instead, it applies when a crime has been committed due to the victim’s “real or perceived characteristic, trait, belief, practice, association or other attribute” and references a different part of state law that includes a list of characteristics. That list includes color, creed, disability, national origin, race, religion, or sexual orientation.
 
The debate on Tuesday was much longer than the one on Monday, when only one Democrat spoke against the amendment.
 
Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, accused Republican lawmakers of being unaware of which specific groups are targeted for hate crimes.
 
“We do know,” DeLaney said. “Why can’t we just say it? Apparently it would bother some people.”
 
Rep. Carey Hamilton, D-Indianapolis, and Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, talked about how the list doesn’t include gender or sex, meaning women are left out.
 
“As a woman, I’m really offended by this,” Austin said.
 
Austin said she’s glad she has sons as opposed to daughters.
 
“Is this what you aspire to for your daughters and granddaughters?” Austin said.
 
But Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, said he believes the bill will protect his three daughters, because the language covers any “real or perceived characteristic, trait, belief, practice, association or other attribute.”
 
“That is inclusive,” Lehman said. “That’s everybody. That’s my three daughters. That’s everybody you want to put on a list.”

House Speaker Brian Bosma said after the vote that he feels good about the bill. When specifically asked whether transgender Hoosiers were covered by the bill, Bosma said, “there is no doubt in my mind that they are.”
 
The bill returns to the Senate for consideration. Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray told reporters Tuesday that he thinks it could be considered for a concurrence vote, which would mean the public would not have an opportunity to comment publicly on the new language.

Bosma said he would encourage Bray to send it to a conference committee.

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