Indiana hate crimes bill falling victim to political maneuver by Statehouse leader

Indiana Statehouse (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — A top Statehouse Republican said Friday that he will use a parliamentary maneuver to bottle up hate crimes legislation, dealing a potential setback to Gov. Eric Holcomb and others who want to remove Indiana from the list of just five states that don’t have such laws.

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said in a statement that he will assign all hate crime legislation to the Senate Rules and Legislative Procedure committee that he oversees. Bray, of Martinsville, said the unusual maneuver shouldn’t be construed as an attempt to kill the bills, but he didn’t rule out the possibility that Senate Republicans may ultimately decide against advancing hate crime legislation.

“My intention is … to hold all proposals related to this issue until our caucus has had the opportunity to fully discuss each proposal,” Bray said, adding that only then will Republicans decide which — “if any” — to move forward.

A spokeswoman for Holcomb did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But in recent weeks, the Republican governor has barnstormed on the issue, saying “it’s not only the right thing to do, it’s long overdue.”

“I’m convinced that the overwhelming majority of Hoosiers feel the same way,” Holcomb said in an interview earlier this month.

Forty-five states have hate crime laws, which vary to some degree but generally allow for stiffer sentences to be given to people who are convicted of crimes motivated by hatred or bias. Only Indiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Wyoming and Arkansas do not.

What remains to be seen is what sort of law might be palatable to Indiana’s deeply conservative Legislature — whether it would be open-ended and general or whether it would specify characteristics that would be covered, such as race, gender, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity, which is what Holcomb wants.

While many business leaders support the governor’s call for a hate crime law and view the absence of one as a sign of intolerance, many religious conservatives, including some rank-and-file legislators, see it as an unnecessary exercise that could lead to other unwanted social changes.

For years, they have stymied efforts to pass a hate crime law, arguing that judges can already consider factors such as bias when determining sentences.

Holcomb has said that passing a hate crime law isn’t just the moral thing to do, it could also help with economic development because it would make the state appear more tolerant.

“We are not just known for our Hoosier hospitality; we back it up,” Holcomb said. “I will continue to go anywhere — urban, rural, suburban — and say the exact same thing to any audience.”

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