Coalition still pushing after hate crime bills fail to advance

Despite a grassroots effort and several bills addressing the issue, hate crime legislation appears to have failed in the Indiana Statehouse.

The one bill that did pass through the upper chamber, Senate Bill 220, stalled in the House of Representatives after it did not get a hearing in the Courts and Criminal Code Committee. Authored by Sen. Susan Glick, R-Howe, with Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, added as a second author, the measure would have allowed for a stiffer sentence if a victim was harmed or intimidated because of the individual’s race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation or gender identity.

Prior to the start of the 2016 Indiana General Assembly session, a coalition of religious and civic organizations began advocating for passage of a hate crime bill. The grassroots group, which included the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council and the Indianapolis Urban League, argued this legislation is needed to combat the hate crimes that continue to happen in the state.

Although a bill addressing hate or bias crimes will not reach the governor’s desk, the coalition is not giving up just yet.

“We’re going all the way to sine die,” said David Sklar, director of government affairs for the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council. He noted the group is continuing to talk to legislators and hoping that hate crime language can get attached to another bill in conference committee.

The 2016 session ends March 14.

SB 220 was one of six bias crime bills introduced during the 2016 session. It was the only bill to get a committee hearing, gaining the unanimous support of the Senate Committee on Corrections & Criminal Law before passing the full Senate on a 34 to 16 vote.

During the second reading in the Senate, an amendment altered the bill’s original language. The amendment, offered by Sen. R. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis,  made changes to the list of characteristics, switching the term “gender” to “gender identity” and “sexual orientation or transgender status” to just “sexual orientation.”

Sklar acknowledged he was “pretty disappointed” SB 220 did not go farther in the House. The coalition has had “good conversations” with lawmakers, he said, and if the effort is ultimately unsuccessful, he believes a lot of groundwork was done for the 2017 session.  

Both Sklar and Rep. Gregory Porter, D-Indianapolis, underscored the need for such legislation by pointing to recent hate crimes in Indiana including the defacing that was discovered Feb. 28 of the Islamic Society of North America’s headquarters in Plainfield.    

“… We are told … again … that we do not need hate crime legislation in Indiana. We are told that such laws have no point. They mean nothing,” Porter said in a press release. “They mean one thing … that Indiana will not stand for the kind of bigotry and intolerance that sends a message our state doesn’t care about protecting people, simply because they are perceived to be ‘different.’”

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