Hate crime bill dies in Senate committee

January 30, 2018

Hate crime legislation has again failed in the Indiana Statehouse after Senate Republicans could not reach a consensus on what the bill should include.

However, while saying the Indiana Legislature would revisit the issue in the future, Senate Pro Tempore David Long maintained case law in Indiana already allows courts to increase a sentence if the crime was motivated by bias against the victim.

“So, there’s not a group that’s left out under the current rules,” Long said. “Every Hoosier can be a victim of a bias crime. It can be anyone of us for any reason depending on the motivation of the individual who committed the crime. Under Indiana’s current law, this is covered.”

As in the two previous legislative sessions, a hate crime bill authored by Sen. Susan Glick, R-LaGrange, was positioned to move forward. Glick’s measures had passed through the Senate committee in 2016 and 2017, and in 2016 had received approval from the full Senate on a 34-to-16 vote.

Yet, the Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law tabled a vote on Senate Bill 418 last week after extensive testimony from proponents and opponents of the measure. At the committee hearing this morning, chair Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, said the bill would not be brought up for a vote.

He then adjourned the hearing and immediately, he and Glick walked down the hall to another room for a press conference to explain the situation. They were joined by Long, R-Fort Wayne.

Long said the Republican caucus had robust and extensive discussions about the bias crime bill but could not find common ground.

A sticking point seems to have been the list of characteristics that the bill highlighted as to why the victim was the target of the crime. The bill enabled the court when imposing a sentence to consider as an aggravating circumstance that the crime was committed because of bias against the individual. The list of characteristics included race, religion, disability, gender identity, sex, sexual orientation and ethnicity.

Both Long and Young said Senate Republicans had diverging views about the list and the bill. Some saw the need for the list as it was contained in the original bill and some did not want any list included while others believed the list was excluding people and, therefore, should be expanded.

Also, Glick noted Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill’s office submitted language that she described as essentially stripping the bill and inserting enhancement provisions.  

“We didn’t feel at this time that we wanted to go forward with a bill that was cobbled together,” Glick said. “It’s much better to step back, go through the process and maybe in the future come back with something that’s better written and does what we intend to do with this bill.”

After the press conference, Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, blasted the majority. He has also authored hate crime legislation, including this session’s Senate Bill 271, but his measures have never gotten hearings. His bills have also included comprehensive lists of characteristics that singled out the victim for the crime.

“I am more than disappointed and angry on behalf of victims in this state that another year has gone by and the General Assembly has chosen not to put a law on the books to protect those who are affected by bias motivated crimes,” Taylor said.

Long and Young stressed that the Indiana Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling in Witmer v. State along with a provision in Indiana’s criminal law statute (subsection (c) of Indiana Code 35-38-1-7.1) enables courts to enhance a sentence if a crime was motived by hate.

“…everyone is covered, not only in Witmer but also in subsection (c),” Young said. “We just don’t have the specific names but they’re covered.”  

Glick said even with the court ruling and the provision in the sentencing statute, she still sees a need to hate crime language to be added to the state statute. Her bill, she said, would protect all Indiana residents and emphasize that Hoosiers do not stand for hate.

“Sometimes we draw double lines under things and we highlight in bold because we want people to understand, and to make it very clear and that’s what we were attempting to do with this bill,” Glick said.