Indiana hate crime bill amended as Senate scraps specific protections

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- The Indiana Senate voted Tuesday to amend a hate crime proposal, removing protective characteristics, such as race, sexual orientation or gender identity, from the bill.

The amendment passed 33-16, with several Republicans voting against it.

Specific protections were replaced with the words "including bias" as a catchall term that judges can use when determining a sentence.

This is a devastating blow to lawmakers who had been pushing for the passage of a comprehensive hate crimes bill. That includes Governor Eric Holcomb, who has repeatedly called on lawmakers to pass a bill with protections for specific groups. He took to Twitter to give his thoughts.

Despite the governors' efforts, it appears Indiana will remain one of five states without a hate crime law.

Those who voted for the amendment claimed it was the most equitable way to do things in terms of fairness.

“Today, the Senate accepted my amendment to Senate Bill 12, which I believe includes and covers all individuals. As it now stands, SB 12 specifies that a court could aggravate a person’s criminal sentence if bias is a factor in their crime," said amendment author Sen. Aaron Freeman in a statement.

The bill will have a third reading likely Wednesday or later this week. It remains unclear how likely the bill is to pass.

State Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, issued the following statement after voting against the amendment:

“This session, I authored Senate Bill 219 to help protect survivors of sexual abuse, including adults who were sexually abused as children. Many of these victims are still processing the effects of abuse as adults, and some may not have reported the crime committed against them when they were younger.

Unfortunately, under current law, these individuals are left with no recourse, as the statute of limitations does not allow them to bring their case forward now.

SB 219, which recently passed the Senate 40 to 0, would urge the Legislative Council to task a summer study committee with studying the statute of limitations for a civil cause of action against a person whose negligent or intentional act or omission led to the sexual abuse of a child. If passed, this bill would send a signal to those who have been sexually abused that we want to find a way to help them seek justice for these terrible acts committed against them.”

Merritt is running for mayor in Indianapolis this year, putting additional scrutiny on his vote.

Also today, Indiana Senate Democrats issued this statement:

Today, the Indiana Senate Democrats walked out of the Senate Chamber in protest of the disrespect shown by Senate Republicans in amending a bias crimes bill into a watered down proposal that tells Hoosiers that the Indiana legislature does not care about our most vulnerable citizens.

On the Senate floor, Senators Taylor, Randolph, Ford and Lanane implored the Senate to show respect to the caucus who represents and embodies the minority population in Indiana.

Senate Democrats have fought for an inclusive bias crimes law in Indiana that protects all Hoosiers regardless of an individual’s race, religion, color, sex, gender identity, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation or age for six consecutive years.

Senate Bill 12, the most widely supported bias crimes bill by Hoosier businesses and communities, passed out of the Senate Public Policy Committee yesterday with a vote of 9-1 with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Today, Senator Freeman authored an amendment that removes the list of protected classes from the bill telling Hoosiers that they don’t matter. They have chosen to continue to be one of five states without a true bias crimes law and have gone against the requests of their own governor.

The Indiana Senate as the upper chamber of the legislature did not do their job today. They passed the buck and we did not protect Hoosiers.

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