IN Focus: Gov. Holcomb, lawmakers discuss new push for hate crime law

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INDIANAPOLIS - Indiana remains one of five states in the U.S. without legislation to allow judges to issue harsher penalties for hate crimes, but Gov. Eric Holcomb wants to see that change.

On July 28, anti-Semitic graffiti was found at a garbage shed at Congregation Shaarey Tefilla, located in the 3000 block of West 116th St. The graffiti included a Nazi flag and other symbols.

Corey Freedman, the President of Congregation Shaarey Tefilla, believed it happened late Friday night into Saturday morning. He said surveillance video did catch the act and more than one person is behind the vandalism.

The incident has caused Gov. Holcomb to push for hate crimes law to be introduced and approved. He issued this statement:

“No law can stop evil, but we should be clear that our state stands with the victims and their voices will not be silenced.

“For that reason it is my intent that we get something done this next legislative session, so Indiana can be 1 of 46 states with hate crimes legislation—and not 1 of 5 states without it.

“I’ll be meeting with lawmakers, legal minds, corporate leaders and citizens of all stripes who are seeking to find consensus on this issue so that, once and for all, we can move forward as a state.”

This comes after a bill to do just that died in the Indiana Statehouse for a second year in a row. The bill would have allowed judges to impose tougher sentences specifically for crimes motivated by race, religion, sex, disability, gender identity or sexual orientation. While current law allows judges to issue harsher penalties at their discretion, the bill would have been a more formal way to keep track of the incidents and discourage others.

According to the FBI, From 2012-2016, Indiana has had 303 hate crimes reported, with 78 of those reports coming from 2016. Many agencies don't report such data to the FBI, either because they have nothing to report or aren't required to.

Before the bill died, Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry spoke about the benefits of a hate crime provision for his office in addressing bias-motivated crimes.

“We believe that the explicit language is necessary in the statute so that prosecutors can appropriately argue, and the courts will consider, how bias motivation in a criminal act has a greater effect on the safety and well-being of the public at large,” Curry said. “A crime that is motivated by bias because of an individual’s race, because of an individual’s sexual orientation, is not just a crime against that individual victim. It is a crime against an entire community.”

The author of Indiana’s hate crimes bill, State Senator Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) issued this joint statement with State Senate candidate JD Ford, who is running against State Sen. Mike Delph (R-Carmel):

“This past weekend, a blatant act of hate was committed against the Congregation Shaarey Tefilla and against the people of Carmel. We join those who have condemned this act and know that this does not reflect the beliefs of this community. However, talk is cheap, and we believe it is time for action - this heinous incident illustrates exactly why we must pass a hate crimes bill in Indiana.

"While Indiana remains one of five states in our country still without a hate crimes law, Mike Delph offers only his words in response. It is past time that we ensure that our laws protect all Hoosiers and reflect true Hoosier values. We are committed to working for a hate crimes bill, and we call on Mike Delph to put action behind his talk and join us.

"We stand with the people of Congregation Shaarey Tefilla and with all Hoosiers who deserve full protection under our laws.”

House Speaker Brian Bosma issued this statement:

“The recent vandalism at the Congregation Shaarey Tefilla in Carmel is sickening, disheartening and unacceptable. It is my hope that the perpetrators will be caught and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We need to continue to support our neighbors as no one should live in fear – especially at their house of worship.

"This summer, the Interim Study Committee on Corrections and Criminal Code will take another look at the issue of bias-motivated crimes and identify opportunities for legislative consensus. Indiana judges already have the ability to enhance sentences based on a criminal’s motivation when presented with evidence of bias, but perhaps more needs to be done to clarify and highlight this existing provision."

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