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State Senator Pushes For Hate Crime Legislation

Brandon Smith
Indiana Public Broadcasting

Indiana is one of only five states in the country without any bias or hate crime language in its laws. A democratic state senator wants to change that, proposing a bill that goes further than a failed proposal from the 2016 session.

Legislation this past session that cleared the senate but stalled in the house would have allowed judges to increase penalties if a person committed a crime based in part because of the victim’s characteristics — such as their race, religion, or sexual orientation. Indianapolis senator Greg Taylor’s proposed legislation would create an automatic enhancement – making misdemeanors felonies and raising each felony one level. Taylor says the state should acknowledge that some crimes are more heinous.

“If someone were to spray paint a swastika on a Jewish church, nobody would say ‘Hey that’s just vandalism,’” Taylor says. “That’s hatred and we need to recognize it.”

Taylor’s proposal also includes training for police on how to recognize and investigate bias crimes. Taylor has proposed similar legislation in the past without success. Many Republicans – including, notably, the chairman of the House Courts and Criminal Code committee – oppose bias crime legislation. The legislation will likely face stiff resistance in the General Assembly.

Indianapolis senator Jim Merritt last week proposed a similar bill– but his focuses solely on crimes committed against off-duty law enforcement officers. Asked if he’d support a broader bias crimes bill, Merritt says the focus this year should remain on protecting police.

“Primarily because they are our finest and they are special,” Merritt says.

But Taylor says his bill and Merritt’s proposal aren’t mutually exclusive.

“For us to say that one individual group is bigger than another – it’s just not right,” Taylor says.

Taylor says he’s reached out to Merritt in the hopes of combining the two bills.

Brandon Smith is excited to be working for public radio in Indiana. He has previously worked in public radio as a reporter and anchor in mid-Missouri for KBIA Radio out of Columbia. Prior to that, he worked for WSPY Radio in Plano, Illinois as a show host, reporter, producer and anchor. His first job in radio was in another state capitol, in Jefferson City, Missouri, as a reporter for three radio stations around Missouri. Brandon graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2010, with minors in political science and history. He was born and raised in Chicago.
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