*UPDATED*: Legislation to pass a bias crimes law took center stage this morning as SB 12, authored by Sen. Ron Alting (R-Lafayette) and Sen. Mike Bohacek (R-Michigan City), went before the Senate Public Policy Committee. This is a priority issue for the Indiana Chamber and we will be pushing for the most all-encompassing measure to be enacted.

Senate Bill 12 does that and includes sexual orientation and gender identity among the list of protected categories. As we work to attract top talent from all over the U.S. and the world, individuals need to know that their friends and families will be safe from discrimination and welcome in our state.

The Chamber’s overriding goal is for a bill to pass in 2019 that would take Indiana off the list of just five states that currently don’t have a bias/hate crimes law on the books. In addition to Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar testifying at the public hearing, the Chamber lined up several prominent business leaders to speak in favor of the bill’s passage and on the impact it would have. Among them: Doug Boles, president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway; Dan Emerson, chief legal officer, Indianapolis Colts; Larry Gigerich, executive managing director, Ginovus (and Chamber board member); Jim Morris, vice chairman, Pacers Sports & Entertainment; and John Thompson, chairman and CEO of First Electric Supply (and Chamber executive committee member).

Brinegar to the committee: “Why does the Indiana Chamber and the broader business community care about bias-motivated crimes? The answer is because our member companies are in an intense battle for talent as they struggle to find enough skilled workers, and they believe that it is simply the right thing to do. Consider that for the first time in our country’s history that there are more job openings than there are job-seekers. Therefore, it is critical to remove any or all strikes against Indiana – such as not having a bias crimes statute – to assist our employers in filling their own positions, so that they can compete effectively in a global economy.” Brinegar’s full testimony.

Morris testified: “The state of Indiana is in vigorous competition for the brightest young minds for jobs and investment capital to come our way. To the degree that the brightest (minds) decide to become Hoosiers, our state will thrive and prosper. The fact that we do not have a hate crimes law is a very negative factor in our state’s reputation. That’s not who we Hoosiers are. … This (bill) does not to deprive anyone of their rights or to compromise free speech. This is to send a message to tell the world what an open, welcoming, free place the state of Indiana is.”

Thompson said. “I believe there are companies and organizations who are not considering Indiana because we do not have a hate crimes law. ”

When it came time for the committee to vote, two legislators – Sen. Vaneta Becker (R-Evansville) and Sen. Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) – thanked the Indiana Chamber for its leadership and assistance on this issue. The bill passed 9-1. The deadline for the Senate to pass the bill is February 26. The vote in the full Senate is expected to be much closer. In the meantime, the Chamber and its coalition are continuing a full-court press on this issue with senators.