The Republican-dominated Indiana Senate passed a stripped-down hate crimes bill Thursday and sent the measure to the House, where Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and others hope the legislation can still be strengthened.
The Senate voted 39-10 in favor of the legislation that was changed two days earlier to remove a list of specifically protected characteristics, including sexual orientation, gender identity and race.
Among those voting against the amended bill were its authors: GOP Sen. Ron Alting and Democratic Sen. Greg Taylor.
The amendment stripping the list of protected characteristics was approved Tuesday, immediately drawing criticism from Holcomb, civil rights activists and business interests. The amendment simply added the words “including bias” to current state code on factors a judge may consider in handing down a sentence.
“Just saying ‘bias’ includes everybody, whether it’s based on race, religion, sexual orientation, whatever the case may be, that if a crime is committed with bias, then the judge would have the ability to use that as an aggravator,” said Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray.
Holcomb had included the original legislation among his legislative priorities for the 2019 session and said the amended bill “does not get Indiana off the list of states without a bias crime law.” Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina and Wyoming are the other states without hate crime laws.
“We must leave no doubt that Indiana welcomes all,” GOP Sen. Jim Merritt said. “This is a human rights issue. Bias crimes are on the rise and judges need guidance. That is why providing a clear and defined list is important.”
Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar said in a statement immediately after Thursday’s vote that his group will be among the business interests seeking to strengthen the bill.
“Unfortunately, what passed the Senate today does not meet the all-important criteria of a meaningful bias crimes law,” Brinegar said. “The Indiana Chamber and its members will continue to work with all legislators to do just that.”
A coalition of supporters of a stronger bill called Indiana Forward includes major state employers, nonprofits, faith-based groups, trade groups, colleges and universities. Its co-chairman, David Sklar, said the bill passed Thursday “has absolutely no teeth.”