The only hate crime bill that was sent to the Senate floor for a vote was pulled by the author yesterday after a proposed amendment from a Republican senator split support for the measure and led to the conclusion that reaching a consensus would be too difficult.
Senate Bill 439 would have made bias an aggravating factor for crimes that were committed with the intent to harm or intimidate an individual based certain characteristics such as race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill passed the Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law on 6-3 vote Feb. 2.
However, Sen. Susan Glick, R-LaGrange, decided not to advance the bill during the full Senate session Monday.
“I have made the decision not to move Senate Bill 439 forward this session” Glick said in a press release. “This bill sought to give judges the ability to increase penalties for bias-motivated crimes. However, after discussions with my colleagues, it has become apparent that there is a difference of opinion on various potential amendments to the bill, making it difficult to find consensus on a path forward.”
The outcome was especially disappointing to David Sklar, director of government affairs for the Jewish Community Relations Council in Indianapolis. He pointed out the bill died on a day when at least 92 Jewish schools, offices and community centers across the country, including Indianapolis, reported bomb threats.
The bill was largely derailed by an amendment offered by Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, which would have removed the language identifying the protected classes. In place of the specific characteristics like gender, ethnicity and nationality, the amendment inserted the more general “characteristic, belief, practice, association, or other attribute the court chooses to consider.”
According to Sklar, the amendment would have rendered the bill ineffective. Similar generic language was crafted into bias laws in Utah and Georgia with the result that Utah’s statute is not enforced because there is confusion over the interpretation and Georgia’s law was recently struck down by the state’s supreme court for being “unconstitutionally vague.”
The sticking point in the Indiana bill was the inclusion of gender identity and sexual orientation. Sklar noted 45 other states have hate crime laws and 30 of those extend coverage to the LGBT community.
“We’re not trying to push any kind of extreme agenda,” Sklar said.
S.B. 439 is identical to a bill Glick co-authored with retired Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, during the 2016 legislative session. Senate Bill 220 was passed in the Senate by a 34-16 vote but never got a hearing from the House Committee on Courts and Criminal Code.
Three other hate crime bills were introduced this session in the Senate and two more were filed in the House of Representatives. None of those bills received a committee hearing.
Sklar said supporters of hate crime legislation are not giving up.
“We think there’s still ample time for the Legislature to discuss this issue,” he said, noting the work might now focus on getting the language amended into another bill or getting the topic assigned to a summer study committee. “We’re not prepared to let the conversation die in the second half of the session.”
Glick also indicated she is going to keep trying to get a hate-crime measure passed.
“While I have made the decision not to move the bill this year, I will continue working on this issue in the coming months with the hopes of possibly bringing it back during next year’s legislative session,” she said.