Senate Sends Hate Crimes Bill To Governor's Desk; Holcomb Says He'll Sign

Apr 2, 2019

Indiana Senate Republicans gave their final approval Tuesday to legislation they say creates hate crimes protections in state law.

Gov. Eric Holcomb says he’ll sign it – though amid constitutionality concerns, there’s no guarantee it will get Indiana off the list of five states without a hate crimes statute.

The legislation says judges can enact harsher penalties if a crime was motivated by bias against any trait or affiliation. Sen. Mike Bohacek (R-Michiana Shores), the bill’s sponsor, says that language encompasses everyone. The bill also references a list of victim characteristics, which Bohacek calls “examples.”

“We’re trying to encourage our judiciary to do the right thing when they see that bias,” Bohacek says.

But the list excludes sex, age, and gender identity, which has drawn the ire of many advocates. Sen. Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis) calls the measure “sexist,” “ageist,” and “transphobic.”

“So, I can’t call it a hate crimes bill and I think you’re deluding yourselves if you call it a hate crimes bill,” Breaux says.

The bill passed the Senate 34 to 14, with four Republicans joining Democrats in opposition.

Holcomb applauds the measure's passage. In a statement, he said it accomplishes his goal of protecting Hoosiers from hate crimes.

"Criminals who attempt to instill fear by attacking others based, for example, on who someone loves, who they are, how they identify, how they pray, should know their sentences can, and I believe should, be enhanced to the fullest extent of the law,” Holcomb said.

Other Republican leaders, including Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) and Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) were similarly effusive with their praise.

And the Indiana Republican Party celebrated what it views as a win for Indiana in removing the state from the list of five without a hate crimes law.

But that's not assured. The Anti-Defamation League is largely regarded as the keeper of that list – and it says the bill is too vague and overly broad. The ACLU says the same, questioning the measure's constitutional validity.

Indiana Forward, a coalition of more than 700 groups advocating for a hate crimes law, says it's "disappointed" and "concerned" with the bill.

Yet the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, which similarly pushed for a comprehensive hate crimes bill this year, says an all-inclusive bill wasn't "politically realistic." And it says the measure approved by the Senate Tuesday is better than nothing.