The state’s hate crimes legislation is one successful concurrence vote away from making it to the Governor’s desk. That Senate vote is expected early next week. The Indiana Chamber, which has made enacting a meaningful bias crimes bill a priority, is encouraging the Senate to pass the measure.

To recap, Senate Bill 12 is not the vehicle for the policy anymore. On Monday, House Republicans successfully inserted their own bias crimes language – which also referred to an existing list in Indiana law – into Senate Bill 198 (a sentencing measure focusing on controlled substances authored by Sen. Mike Bohacek) via a voice vote.

The new language adds a 12th aggravator to Indiana’s criminal code: Allowing a judge to increase a defendant’s sentence if the defendant committed the crime because of the defendant’s bias towards the victim. After impassioned speeches from both sides on Tuesday, the bill passed the full House 57-39 with only Republican votes.

The amended language added to SB 198 reads: “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.”

The referenced Indiana Code says, “…’bias crime’ means an offense in which the person who commits the offense knowingly or intentionally:

(1) selected the person who was injured; or

(2) damaged or otherwise affected property;

by the offense because of the color, creed, disability, national origin, race, religion or sexual orientation of the injured person or of the owner or occupant of the affected property or because the injured person or owner or occupant of the affected property was associated with any other recognizable group or affiliation.”

A failed concurrence vote by the Senate could send the bill to conference committee and open up discussions for potential changes again – something that could decrease the chances of any hate crimes bill becoming law this year.

As has been well noted by opponents and in media coverage, age, gender and gender identity are not spelled out in the referenced Indiana Code section. However, many – including the Indiana Chamber – believe SB 198 is actually carefully crafted to be comprehensive, with the line “including but not limited to an attribute described in IC 10-13-3-1” having the effect of covering those not specifically spelled out on the referenced list.

The Chamber strongly believes this language should remove Indiana from the list of five states without a bias/hate crimes law. Again, it is both specific with a list and broad to include other groups.

Could the language be better and not open for interpretation or argument? Yes, but this latest House effort is a vast improvement from the Senate-passed version and is a positive step in the right direction. We believe Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) when he says this language is where he could find consensus in his caucus.

Sometimes you have to assess the odds and take the best deal there is, or risk walking away empty-handed. In this situation, doing nothing isn’t an option. No one should want to perpetuate a false perception about our state being unwelcoming.

As our 20-member executive committee wrote in a letter to statewide newspapers late last week, “That unfortunate assessment of Indiana does keep talented individuals from relocating here at a time of our greatest workforce challenges. Indiana Chamber members and the broader business community are suffering the consequences in stifled economic growth.”

To those groups wanting a perfect bias crimes bill that spells everything out, we hear you and understand, to a point. While that’s ideal, it’s apparently not realistic at this time. It also bears repeating that what’s on the verge of passing is still a meaningful hate crimes bill, more comprehensive than some states and on par with others. Not to mention, it’s far better than having no law at all.

Resources: Kevin Brinegar at (317) 264-6882 or email: [email protected]; Adam H. Berry at (317) 264-6892 or email: [email protected]