Indiana hate crimes bill moves through Senate committee

INDIANAPOLIS (WNDU) - Indiana is one of five states without a hate crimes law, but it does have a hate crimes bill that began moving through the Legislature Monday.

Senate Bill 12 sailed out of the Senate Public Policy Committee by a vote of 9-1 Monday.

About 40 people testified for and against the bill at a hearing that lasted some three hours.

“The crimes have to do with regard to their culture, their tradition, their faith articles, and this ought to end,” a spokesman for the Sikh community in Indiana said.

In general, the hate crimes advocates in the Senate chamber had a lot to say and a lot to love about the hate crimes bill.

“I have lived in Indiana for my entire life. I have also been bisexual and transgender for my entire life, and I am so, so grateful this bill has not just one but two Republican co-sponsors and that sexual orientation and gender identity are covered in this bill. As a bisexual and transgender Hoosier, this is what makes me feel welcome and loved in this state,” an unidentified member of a contingent of Goshen College students said. “I dream of the day I get to be my true self, without fear of a hate crime being committed against me.

"We do not have that world yet, and this law will not make that world, but I want to know that justice can exist for both myself and my family if something were to happen to me. In Indiana right now, that peace of mind does not exist."

The bill would make any crime a potential hate crime by adding bias as an allowable aggravator for sentencing purposes.

For instance, if someone were motivated by hate to burglarize a synagogue, the standard or advisory sentence would be three years because it is a Class 5 felony.

“Assuming the person has no criminal history and has no aggravators or mitigators, then the judge is sort of obligated to give the advisory sentence,” said David Powell with the Indiana Prosecutor’s Council. “If there is at least one aggravator present, and the judge finds that, they can impose the maximum sentence.”

That means the sentence could increase to as much as six years if hate was found to be part of the equation.

“It certainly adds. It could, in some cases, double the sentence, the executed sentence,” Powell said.

The committee began by approving an amendment that lists the types of groups that would be protected from crimes of hate. They are “color, creed, disability, national origin, ancestry, race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, political affiliation, status as a public safety officer and member of the armed forces.”

In the end, nine committee members voted yes while only one, Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, voted no.

“This bill is not going to change what people think," Boots said. "I don’t care what you do, you cannot legislate people’s thoughts. So, there’s still going to be bias.”

Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, was quick to counter, saying, “This bill does not prevent you from thinking whatever you want. The haters, if they want to continue to hate, they can. But the key thing is when you act upon that hate. If you act upon it and hurt someone, then that’s an aggravation. You should be held accountable for that.”