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Activists Hoping Lawmakers Make Time In Jam-Packed Session For Anti-Hate Crime Legislation

Jim Grey

While state legislators have made it clear they want to focus on anti-discrimination laws this session, some civil rights activists are pushing for another type of law –one punishing bias or “hate” crimes.

Hate crimes add an extra element to traditional crimes, a bias against a particular group, such as one defined by race, sexual orientation or religion.

"This is a crime that immediately affects a victim or an institution, but really is meant to send a message to an entire group of individuals or an entire community," says David Sklar, Director of Government Affairs with the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council, who's leading an effort to get a law that would punish hate crimes heard in the 2016 state session.

Lafayette resident Zelda Flye points out most states have hate crime legislation.

"Indiana's one of five states in the United States that does not have a bias crimes bill," Flye says. "And I really think that's not a list Indiana needs to be on."

Sklar says there are three elements to his proposed hate crime legislation. First, the law would enhance sentences for crimes that target specific groups. Second, law enforcement would be required to report the crimes. Finally, the law would require law enforcement and legal communities to be educated about hate crimes.

What hate crime legislation doesn’t do is create a new category of crime. If an act isn’t already against the law—such as a preacher espousing an anti-same-sex marriage sermon—it couldn’t be considered a hate crime. 

"What we’re talking about with bias crimes legislation is just that…they’re crimes," Sklar says.

It will be difficult. Civil rights legislation and infrastructure talks are on the table in a jam-packed yet truncated 2016 session, and legislators are wary of any law that might put more people back in jail so soon after an effort to rid the state’s prisons of non-violent offenders. 

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