IN Focus: Holcomb calls hate crime bill “step in right direction”

INDIANAPOLIS - Governor Eric Holcomb (R-IN) signed the hate crimes bill into law Wednesday, after lawmakers passed the controversial bill on Tuesday.

In February, Senate Bill 12 passed the Indiana Senate after lawmakers stripped it of language identifying specific characteristics, including race, sexual orientation and gender identity, prompting criticism that the language did not go far enough in protecting potential hate crime victims.

On March 28, the House passed an amendment to a bill dealing with sentencing, to include a list of protected groups, which is void of age, gender or gender identity. Senate Bill 198 states "The person committed the offense with bias due to the victim's or the group's real or perceived characteristic, trait,belief, practice, association, or other attribute the court chooses to consider, including but not limited to an attribute described in IC 10-13-3-1," which includes color, creed, disability, national origin, race, religion and sexual orientation. It passed in the Senate on Tuesday in a 34-14 vote.

Gov. Holcomb issued the following statement on Wednesday after signing the bill into law behind closed doors:

“Our goal was to achieve a comprehensive law that protects those who are the targets of bias crimes, and we have accomplished just that. We have made progress and taken a strong stand against targeted violence. I am confident our judges will increase punishment for those who commit crimes motivated by bias under this law.”

Several advocacy groups asked lawmakers to make changes before the vote to include gender protections.

"The language that was passed is not enough. It needs to be fully inclusive so we need to get gender identity, age and sex added in also. We need to pass a law that doesn't just get us off the list of states that don't have a hate crimes law, but is actually fully inclusive protections for it," Indiana Youth Group CEO Chris Paulsen said after the House passed the updated list. Indiana Youth Group works with LGBTQ youth.

"When you leave out gender, gender identity and age you're leaving out thousands of Indiana women," Rima Shahid, executive director of Women4Change Indiana, said.

A state lawmaker tried and failed to make an amendment to a measure about academic credits for religious instruction to add a protected class list for any bias crimes, including gender and gender identity. The House speaker said it didn't reflect the original intent of that bill, though. Democrats did not have enough votes to overturn the speaker's ruling.

"First, just the omission of those specific characteristics or traits does not override the fact that the start of the bill says any recognizable or perceive characteristic or trait, so everyone is covered. There are 21 states that have fewer designations than Indiana, or Indiana law 198, that are not on the list today," Speaker Brian Bosma said.

Gov. Holcomb supported the bill and the eventual language, although he had previously made it clear he wanted gender and gender identity included. He said the language is broad enough to offer protection to all Hoosiers.

Indiana has long been one of five states without hate crimes legislation on the books, and the Anti-Defamation League says this bill's vagueness would not change that.

Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) issued this statement:

“I am deeply disturbed that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle saw this language and thought that leaving out age, sex and gender identity from the list of protected classes was good enough.

“The Republican supermajority showed their true colors this session in regards to their feelings towards our minority communities in this state. It is cowardly to not specify an all-inclusive list.

“I want to remind the supermajority that they will not have the opportunity to boast getting Indiana off the short list of states without a hate crimes law. The Anti-Defamation League said themselves that this does not get us off the list.

“The General Assembly had the opportunity to do the right thing here this session, and the Republicans in both chambers neglected their responsibility. It is inexcusable that all Hoosiers are not protected from crimes committed due an age, sex or gender identity bias.

“I am also dismayed that this inadequate version was rushed through the House with decisions made behind closed doors and no opportunity for public debate. For this reason alone, this bill should have been dissented upon by the Senate Republicans so that further efforts to restore the complete list that passed on a bipartisan basis in the Senate Public Policy Committee could occur."

Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar issued this statement:

“The bias crimes legislation heading to the Governor is a big step in the right direction. Though the list is not as comprehensive as we had advocated for, what the Legislature has passed is still a meaningful hate crimes bill. It is more inclusive than some states’ laws and on par with others. Not to mention, it’s far better than having no law at all. We encourage Gov. Holcomb to sign the bill.

“To those wanting a perfect bias crimes bill that spells out everything, we hear you and we understand; that was our shared goal. While that’s ideal, it was not politically realistic at this time. It has taken the state 25 years to get to this point and in today’s climate, doing nothing wasn’t an option in our view. No one should want to perpetuate a false perception about our state being unwelcoming; that only exacerbates our workforce challenges.

“Separately, we are disappointed by what we believe is an unfair preliminary assessment of Indiana’s bill by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The legislation contains a list and additional language intended to cover those not specifically spelled out. We strongly encourage the ADL to reassess its position on Indiana’s status and remove the state from the list of those without a hate crimes law.”

Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody issued this statement:

“Governor Holcomb has always lacked the influence to move the needle with his GOP peers on hate crimes. Now it’s up to him to show the backbone it takes to stick to his principles. In 2018, he warned passing an incomplete hate crimes bill could spark RFRA 2.0. In January, he called on lawmakers to pass a complete hate crimes bill. Now, he has a choice: take a principled stand and veto the bill or declare an empty victory.”

Sen. John Ruckelshaus (R-Indianapolis) issued this statement:

“Over the course of my three years in the Senate, I have fought diligently for the passage of a bias-crime bill. Although this version is not the one I originally advocated for, I am grateful the General Assembly was able to come together to pass legislation that is inclusive and will protect all Hoosiers.

“As part of his 2019 legislative agenda, Gov. Holcomb also pushed for bias-crime legislation this session and recently called SEA 198 ‘a ginormous step forward,’ because it meets the original criteria necessary to remove Indiana from the list of five states currently without a bias-crime law.

“In addition, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, also a strong advocate for the passage of bias-crime legislation, supports SEA 198, with Chamber President Kevin Brinegar stating that the bill is ‘carefully crafted to be comprehensive.’

“Again, while this version of bias-crime legislation is different from the one I have advocated for, I believe today’s vote is a step in the right direction, and I am grateful Indiana is moving forward on this critical issue. As former Gov. Mitch Daniels likes to say, ‘Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.’”

Indiana Forward Campaign issued this statement:

Today, hate crimes legislation will move from the Indiana General Assembly to the Governor’s desk for his consideration and potential signing into law.  The Indiana Forward campaign remains disappointed by the lack of a comprehensive list of characteristics we know are the targets of bias motivated crimes in our state and concerned by language that is overly broad and vague to the point of raising potential constitutional questions.

Throughout this legislative session, we have been transparent, consistent and steadfast in asserting that hate crimes legislation must include age, race, ethnicity, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex, disability, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation. Although age, sex, gender and gender identity are missing from SB198, the millions of Hoosiers who identify with these characteristics are not missing from our coalition’s unwavering support, and we will continue to work to ensure that they are added, and specifically identified, in the statute.

We are proud to have helped advance the conversation on this topic with the support of many lawmakers who also believe in a comprehensive solution.

We stand together with the thousands of supporters from major businesses, non-profits, faith-based communities, civic organizations, universities and colleges, and individuals all around the state who joined this considerable effort in pushing for effective legislation for the benefit of all Hoosiers. We remain committed to advocacy on this issue with our state lawmakers for as long as it takes to truly move Indiana Forward with a fully comprehensive and inclusive hate crimes law.

Sen. J.D. Ford (D-Indianapolis) issued this statement:

“I am truly surprised that my Republican colleagues looked at this language and considered it to be a genuine hate crimes bill. We cannot have a bill that excludes age, gender and gender identity and expect to be added to the list of states with fully inclusive bias crimes laws.

“There is no avoiding the fact that SB 198 is an insult to so many Hoosiers. Mere days after Republicans attempted to make it harder for transgender Hoosiers to get a driver’s license that reflects their gender identity, this same caucus tells our transgender population that they don’t matter in the eyes of the law. SB 198 is an outright attack on our LGBTQ+ Hoosiers.

“Many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have said that this bill is just as inclusive as one with the full enumerated list of characteristics and traits. If that is true, then what is the harm of including age, gender and gender identity in SB 198’s list? Why explicitly leave those traits out?

“SB 198 is not a hate crimes bill. This is a hate bill – an ageist, sexist, transphobic hate bill. The governor must stay true to his word and reject a bill that does not include the full list. He must veto this bill, or Hoosiers will remember the day we let hate consume our state.”

House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) issued this statement:

“This bill provides an excellent solution and it covers all Hoosiers equally. You cannot name a characteristic or trait not covered under this bill. We believe this is the most comprehensive and inclusive bias crimes statute in the nation. The reference to our current bias crime definition meets or exceeds that of 21 other states’ bias crime statutes, and all of those states are off the list of states without a bias crimes law. There’s no reasonable assertion as to why this all-inclusive measure doesn’t take Indiana off the list.”

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) issued this statement:

“By referencing a specific list of characteristics, Senate Bill 198 provides guidance for judges, while still giving them the flexibility to increase the sentence for any bias-motivated crime as they see fit. I’m pleased to see this bill advance to the governor’s desk. It’s truly inclusive and will provide protections for all Hoosiers.”

The ACLU of Indiana issued this statement:

Today, the Indiana legislature passed unacceptable and ineffective bias crimes legislation. SB 198 fails to protect transgender Hoosiers, will chill free speech, and will not take Indiana off of the list of states without a bias crime law.

Bias crimes legislation involves a delicate balance between punishing criminal acts without stifling thought or speech. The broad definition of attributes included in SB 198 is unconstitutionally vague, and will likely punish free speech. As a strong defender of free speech, the ACLU opposes legislation that threatens to criminalize speech.

In addition, by omitting gender identity from the list of protected classes, SB 198 sends a message to trans Hoosiers that protecting their lives is a secondary priority.

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