A state senate committee voted 6-3 in favor of proposed hate crimes legislation Tuesday. Indiana is one of only five states without a hate crimes law.
Rep. Susan Glick (R-LaGrange) wants to make it an aggravating circumstance if a crime is committed because of an individual’s characteristics, such as race, religion or sexual orientation.
“Hate crimes laws punish perpetrators for both the underlying crime, such as robbery or assault, and the fact that bias motivated the perpetrators to act,” Glick says.
The bill would allow the courts to impose harsher sentences for crimes motivated by bias. Several people spoke in favor of the proposal during the Senate committee on corrections and criminal law Tuesday.
“We are making a statement as a community that this is unacceptable behavior and that we are going to deal with it more seriously than if it were a simple crime,” says Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry.
Only two people spoke against the proposal. Opponents argue the bill only provides special protections for certain groups.
“We’d love to see all victims get more justice and it seems to us, as you look through the bill, you see certain classes of folks that get increased protections, but there’s a lot of folks that get left out,” says Ryan McCann, director of operations and public policy for the Indiana Family Institute.
And some say existing law goes far enough in punishing crimes.
“I have not heard any evidence that any of the 394,385 crimes recorded in Indiana in 2015 were not adequately prosecuted or adequately sentenced,” says Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana.
The committee amended the bill to include acts against law enforcement, which Republican Senator Jim Merritt originally drafted as a separate proposal. The committee decided not to consider an amendment from Glick that would require law enforcement agencies to report hate crimes to the FBI.
Glick’s bill is one of several drafted this legislative session. Sen. Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) voted in favor of Glick’s legislation but wants a bill that goes even further. His proposal would provide an automatic sentencing enhancement for hate crimes and require police to receive training on how to identify and respond to them.
The Senate passed a hate crimes bill last year, but it failed to get a hearing in the house.
The Southern Poverty Law Center says there were more than 800 hate incidents reported nationwide in the ten days following the November election.