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College, university presidents call for hate crime law as lawmakers prepare legislation

INDIANAPOLIS – A new letter from nearly two dozen Indiana college and university presidents is calling upon Indiana lawmakers to “act now in support of all Hoosiers, regardless of appearance, location, orientation or religious beliefs” and pass a hate crime law.

State Sen. Mike Bohacek (R-Michiana Shores) said he will introduce the bill in the upcoming session, which will be nearly identical to the bill that failed last year.

“Crimes such as these where people are being targeted for who they are, what they are, what they believe in – whether it’s actual or perceived – needs to have some extra teeth,” Bohacek said.

He added the bill will include specific groups targeting crimes against disability, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity. Opposition in recent years has in part centered on whether to include gay, lesbian and transgender Hoosiers, which Bohacek said will be part of the new bill.

“I think that time has come that I think we’ll be able to hopefully look past that and provide the protections we need for all of our citizens,” he said.

Opponents, though, will continue to pressure lawmakers, arguing judges already have the ability to enhance sentences, adding a new law has the potential to create a “politically favored list,” as Micah Clark put it, the executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana.

“There’s several instances in the bill that I’ve seen where people aren’t included,” Clark said. “For example, if someone’s wearing a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat and they get beat up, they’re not included.”

Gov. Eric Holcomb has publicly backed a renewed push for a hate crime law and has said in recent weeks he’s open to all ideas.

“We’ll take the best from them and put forward a suggestion we think will protect, not exclude all Hoosiers,” Holcomb said earlier this month.

Bohacek said the legislation he plans to introduce will be nearly identical to last year’s bill. The question remains whether the outcome will be any different.