(INDIANAPOLIS) – A hate-crimes bill gets its first hearing of the 2019 session on Monday.
Senate Public Policy Chairman Ronnie Alting (R-Lafayette), the bill’s coauthor with Michigan City Republican Mike Bohacek, has set aside three hours for testimony. Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray says there could be a final Senate vote by Thursday.
The bill does not create a new crime. But it would allow judges to use the targeting of a particular group as grounds for a longer sentence if someone is convicted of an existing crime, from criminal mischief to murder.
Indiana law already calls on police to keep track of how many hate crimes are committed based on race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability. Bohacek’s bill adds sex, gender identity, political affiliation, and police or military service to the list of potential targets.
Tea Party and social conservative groups have mobilized against the bill, branding it a “thought crime” bill and arguing that treating victims differently violates constitutional guarantees of equal protection.
Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray (R-Martinsville) says he expects some kind of list to stay in the bill, though one proposed amendment before the committee would delete the entire list and simply list “bias” as a rationale for longer sentences. That’s the approach recommended by House Speaker Brian Bosma, but some legal analysts have warned that a Georgia hate-crimes law was struck down for not being specific.
Two other potential amendments would replace political affiliation with age. One of those amendments would also drop police and military service from the list.
Last year, a hate crimes bill didn’t make it out of committee. This year, it has Governor Holcomb’s backing, and it’s in a different committee. Eight of the 10 Public Policy Committee members voted for the bill when it passed the Senate in 2016.