Bill protecting Indiana public monuments advances out of Senate committee

After the protests this summer that led to the destruction or defacement of monuments nationwide, a bill designed to protect Indiana’s historical markers is advancing in the Indiana Legislature.

The Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee on Tuesday gave unanimous support to Senate Bill 187. The bill specifies that “it is state policy to withhold state support relating to public spaces for political subdivisions that fail to protect public monuments, memorials, and statues and from political subdivisions that have failed to protect public monuments, memorials, and statues from destruction or vandalism.”

“We all watched with disdain and grief the attacks that were made around the country on historic monuments, memorials and statues by rioters and angry mobs in situations where the leaders of those communities instructed law enforcement to stand down,” said Sen. Eric Koch, the Bedford Republican who authored SB 187.

Like elsewhere across the country, Indianapolis was the site of protests after the police killing of George Floyd. Some protests turned violent, vandalizing downtown businesses and buildings including the federal courthouse for the Southern District of Indiana.

About 80% of the war memorials in the Circle City were damaged in the protests, according to a report from WRTV 6.

The original language of the bill would have made it a Level 6 felony to commit “monument desecration,” but that language was removed on the amendment of committee chair Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis. Indiana’s criminal mischief statute already provides for a Level 6 felony charge for similar conduct, Young said.

“This is just a policy statement,” he said.

The bill received support from the Fraternal Order of the Police and the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council. The Indiana Public Defender Council had planned to oppose the measure, but director Bernice Corley withdrew that opposition after the bill was amended.

The possibility of further amending the bill in the full Senate was raised after Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, questioned the scope of the policy. Specifically, she asked whether road signs such as a memorial highway marker would be protected under the policy.

Young urged Koch and Tallian to work on tightening the definitions in the bill and to offer an amendment on second reading, if necessary.

As of Wednesday afternoon, SB 187 had not been scheduled for second reading in the full Senate.

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