Once again, a handful of Indiana lawmakers and community organizations are trying to get hate-crime legislation through the Statehouse and onto the governor’s desk.
Two bills have been filed in the House of Representatives and four have been introduced in the Senate, all addressing different aspects of bias-motivated crimes. Some are comprehensive, defining what constitutes a hate crime, while others focus on specific areas such as sentencing of those convicted of such crimes, special training for law enforcement and reporting requirements.
The two bills from the lower chamber have been assigned to the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee and the four from the upper chamber have been turned over to the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee.
None have been scheduled for a hearing, but Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, is optimistic the bills will gain traction. He has introduced two hate-crime bills this session, one of which elevates the act to a sentencing enhancement that can add up to five years. The other measures that address sentencing make bias motivation a sentencing aggravator.
“I think that the aggravator is something people will look at,” Taylor said. “I don’t think the enhancement is something that too many people want to see except for me. I think it deserves an enhancement.”
Indiana is one of just five states without a bias-crime statute. During the 2016 General Assembly, six hate-crime measures were introduced by both Republicans and Democrats. One, Senate Bill 220, authored by former Democratic Sen. Earline Rogers and Republican Sen. Susan Glick, passed the Senate on a 34-16 vote but did not get a hearing in the House.
The Rogers-Glick bill was limited to making bias motivation an aggravating circumstance when imposing a criminal sentence. Although it defined the crime as being intended to harm or intimidate an individual with certain characteristics, the proposal did not list what those characteristics would be.
Some of the other bills offered in 2016 and in 2017 detail the individual traits that include race, religion and gender identity.
Taylor submitted two bills in 2016, but neither received a hearing in the Senate. However, the experience last year has prepared him for this session. He said the key lessons he learned were “get (the bill) out quickly, make sure that the chair of the committee understands what the bill says, and have some of my supermajority Republican colleagues support the bill, more than what they did last year.”
Also missing from this session is the fight over civil rights for members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered community. David Sklar, director of government affairs for Jewish Community Relations Council in Indianapolis, said the Rogers-Glick bill was derailed, partly, because some legislators feared the measure would be used as a vehicle to extend civil protections to LGBT individuals.
JCRC is part of a coalition of community groups that has continued to advocate for passage of a hate-crime bill. Sklar is hopeful that this longer budgetary session will give coalition members more time to talk to elected officials and clear up any misconceptions about the legislation.
A common issue raised by opponents is that hate crime legislation will cool free speech. Sklar countered that these measures do not dish out penalties for private thoughts. A crime has to be committed for a hate crime law to apply, he said. People cannot be arrested and tried for what they are thinking.
Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry was a member of the coalition during the last session and continues to work for passage of a hate-crime bill.
“I fully support the enactment of a bias-crimes statute in Indiana, joining the forty-five other states that already have such a law in place,” Curry said in an email. “We continue to see potentially bias-motivated incidents investigated throughout the state and this additional tool would allow prosecutors to call these crimes of hate what they are and ask court for an appropriately aggravated punishment.”
Most recently, graves of Jewish individuals were defaced in a Scottsburg cemetery. According to news reports, at least three headstones were spray-painted with anti-Semitic messages.
Sklar said such crimes that target a particular individual because of certain characteristics create multiple victims. These kinds of acts send the message to other members of the same group that they are not welcomed and can be victimized as well.
“Bias crimes are not isolated incidents but statements meant to terrorize and provoke fear in a community of people,” he said.
The bias crime bills pending in Indiana House of Representatives:
• HB 1066, authored by Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis. Defines a bias-motivated crime as that which is committed knowingly or intentionally selects the victim or property because of race, color, religion, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression, or disability; requires law enforcement to collect and report information on bias crimes; makes bias motivation an aggravating circumstance which a judge may consider during sentencing.
• HB 1090, authored by Rep. Thomas Washburne, R-Evansville. The bill makes damaging or defacing property a Level 6 felony if the destruction exposes an individual or group to hatred, contempt, disgrace or ridicule.
Both of these bills have been assigned to the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee. Rep. Washburne is the chair.
The bias crime bills pending in the Indiana Senate:
• SB 333, authored by Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis. Requires law enforcement officers to receive training in identifying and responding to bias-motivated crime perpetrated on the basis of victim’s race, color creed, disability, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity; allows the victim to bring a civil action; establishes a sentencing enhancement not to exceed five years for hate crimes.
• SB 336, authored by Taylor. Defines a bias-motivated crime as a crime that is knowingly or intentionally selected victim because of race, color, religion, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression, or disability; requires law enforcement to receiving training in bias-motivated crimes; requires law enforcement to collect and report information about such crimes; makes bias motivation an aggravating circumstance that can be considered during sentencing.
• SB 438, authored by Sen. Susan Glick, R-LaGrange. Makes bias motivation an aggravating circumstance in crimes committed with the intent to harm or intimidate an individual because of certain perceived or actual characteristics; requires law enforcement to report bias-motivated crimes to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
• SB 439, authored by Glick. Makes bias motivation an aggravating circumstance for a crime that was committed with the intent to harm or intimidate an individual because of certain perceived or actual characteristics.
All have been assigned to the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee. Sen. R. Michael Young is the chair.