Indiana Senate Democrats say their Republican colleagues threw a hate crimes bill “in the trash” Tuesday.
The hate crimes bill had included a list of victim characteristics, including race, sexual orientation and gender identity. But an amendment from Senate Republicans deletes that list. Instead, it simply says judges can consider “bias” during sentencing.
Sen. Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis), the amendment’s author, argues allowing a judge to broadly consider any bias makes the bill more inclusive.
“I think it covers everyone," Freeman says. "I don’t think it leaves anyone out.”
Sen. Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) literally begged Republicans not to make the change. He says Hoosiers deserve better.
“It’s not all-inclusive. It’s not something that helps Indiana," Taylor says. "It puts us backwards.”
Taylor says what Republicans did could be worse for the state than the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, which cost Indiana some investment and threatened others.
But Senate Republican leaders insist the change still provides necessary protection for Hoosiers.
Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) says he thinks the new language would get Indiana off the list – currently just five states – without a hate crimes law.
“We think that we already are, certainly, a very accepting state and we think that we’ve got some language in our sentencing statute that’s already been used – but we do recognize that we need to clarify that," Bray says. "And that’s what we’re trying to do here.”
Gov. Eric Holcomb disagrees.
"The version of the bill approved today by the Senate does not get Indiana off the list of states without a bias crime law," Holcomb said in a statement. "We have a long way to go, a lot of work to do, and fortunately the time yet still to do it. I will continue to fight for the right ultimate outcome for our state and citizens this year so we’re not right back here in the same place next year."
Indiana Forward, a group of more than 700 organizations backing a hate crimes statute, agrees with Holcomb.
“It’s not good enough. It’s just not good enough. It’s not going to be good enough,” Indiana Forward spokesperson Mike Leppert says.
A religious conservative group that long opposed a hate crimes bill sent out a message to supporters Tuesday cheering Senate Republicans’ move.
Seven members of the Senate GOP caucus joined Democrats in voting against the amendment: Sen. Ron Alting (R-Lafayette), Sen. Eric Bassler (R-Washington), Sen. Vaneta Becker (R-Evansville), Sen. Mike Bohacek (R-Michiana Shores), Sen. Jim Merritt (R-Indianapolis), Sen. Mark Messmer (R-Jasper) and Sen. John Ruckelshaus (R-Indianapolis).