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Indiana could pass hate crime laws next year


Protesters march Nov. 11, 2018, toward the steps of IU Auditorium during a march against hate.  Matt Begala

Indiana state senate Republicans ensured last January that the state would remain without hate crimes legislation. This may change when the state legislature reconvenes for the 2019 session.

Earlier this year, Republican lawmakers said they could not reach agreement during private meetings about the language of the bill, which was authored by legislators from the same party. It was the newest attempt in recent years by the GOP-majority legislature to pass similar laws.

However, at least two legislators have already announced their intentions to file hate crime legislation in the upcoming session. 

State Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, said Tuesday he intended to file legislation which treats offenses committed on the basis of the perpetrators' bias against victims' perceived or actual characteristics as hate crimes. Those characteristics include gender identity, race, religion, sexual orientation and disability status, but also include law enforcement and members of the military.

"The increase in these crimes of hate in our communities, across the state and throughout the nation indicates that now is the time to act, and provide judges and prosecutors with more clarity in sentencing,” Cook said in a statement. 

One of last year's failed senate bill authors announced earlier this month he had recently filed a bill with similar provisions. The Nov. 9 announcement from State Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores, came less than two weeks after 11 people were killed in a shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Bohacek said the killings demonstrated a need for state bias-motivated crime laws. 

“Right now, Indiana is one of only five states without a bias or hate crime statute, and I am hopeful this legislation would help prevent hate crimes in our state and ensure the safety of all Hoosiers,” he said in a statement. 

David Sklar, director of government affairs for the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council, said the organization has pushed for hate crime legislation for almost five years, but he is more confident about a bill being passed in the upcoming session.

The Indianapolis JCRC handles public affairs and community relations on behalf of the greater Jewish community in the state. They also work to build consensus across ethnic and religious groups. 

Sklar attributed his confidence to support from the governor and a more widespread understanding for what he said was a need for the legislation. Though his organization has helped draft legislation, he said it is unclear which of the handful of potential bills would ultimately pass. 

“We did have some support of businesses last year," Sklar added. "But I think the support from the business community is almost universal this year." 

He noted the push for hate crimes statutes has come from both sides of the aisle. 

Indiana Democrats identified passing these laws as a priority for the upcoming session, and Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb announced in July that hate crime legislation was on his agenda for the 2019 session.

“No law can stop evil, but we should be clear that our state stands with the victims and their voices will not be silenced,” Holcomb said in a statement. “For that reason it is my intent that we get something done this next legislative session, so Indiana can be 1 of 46 states with hate crimes legislation — and not 1 of 5 states without it.”

The four states which join Indiana in not having hate crime statutes are Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina and Wyoming. 

The governor said he would be meeting with lawmakers, legal experts and corporate leaders to build on consensus on the topic. 

Holcomb’s statement came after anti-Semitic vandalism was discovered at a synagogue in Carmel, Indiana. A 20-year-old Cloverdale, Indiana, man was charged the following month with conspiracy to violate civil rights, a federal offense, in connection to the incident. 

The bill considered last session, Senate Bill 418, would have made a “bias motivated crime” an aggravating circumstance. 

This would have applied to sentencing of perpetrators who injured others or damaged property because because of the perceived or actual color, religion, disability, national origin, ethnicity, race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation of the injured person or of the owner or occupant of the affected property,” according to the last version of the bill.

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