INDIANAPOLIS - Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb says he will spend the next two months working with lawmakers in the House to amend the hate crimes bill passed by the Senate last week.
While talking with reporters Wednesday, Holcomb called the Senate version of the bill too vague to get Indiana off a list of five states that don’t have their own hate crimes legislation.
“Being vague about this does not get us off the list,” Holcomb said.
Senate Bill 12 passed the Indiana Senate last week 39 to 10 after it was stripped of language identifying specific characteristics of potential hate crime victims, including race, sexual orientation and gender identity. The less-specific bill would allow a judge to generally consider bias when considering the sentence of someone convicted of a crime. The bill now moves to the House for consideration and possible amendments when lawmakers begin the second half of the 2019 legislative session on Monday.
“We were able to get a bill through that we haven’t been able to do in a couple of years,” said Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray. “And so the fact that the bill is still moving is a very good thing for us.”
Holcomb wants Representatives in the House to amend the bill by taking specific language from federal hate crime laws and inserting it into the bill. Holcomb says the federal language would be enough to get Indiana off the list of states without a hate crimes law. Holcomb referred to a recent incident involving Nazi graffiti at a synagogue in Carmel.
“What happened to the Synagogue up in Hamilton County is before a federal court, prosecutors,” Holcomb said. “That broke federal law. This is what’s applying to them. It ought to apply to the state as well.”
“I think there is certainly a possibility we could see some change in the language, which we would be very open to take a look at anything the House is able to do,” Bray said.
The Governor says his office has taken hundreds of phone calls from constituents on the issue, and the vast majority of them support a specific hate crimes law. He’s encouraging those voters to contact their legislators.
“I’m going to encourage them not to stop with me, not to just write me,” Holcomb said. “They got my vote, but they need to contact the legislators that vote."
The Governor said he would not rule out the possibility of vetoing a hate crimes bill that does not contain a specific list, but did not commit to it.
“It’s too early for the 'V' word,” he said.
The Governor also said he would personally testify before a House committee on the issue if it appears necessary.
“I wouldn’t rule it out,” Holcomb said. “By the time we get to that point, if it’s necessary, the answer is yes.”
The issue has already put Holcomb at odds with some fellow Republicans who supported removing the specific list from the Senate bill. Further debate in the House could continue to do so.
“We’re not drones,” the Governor said. “We don’t agree on everything. That’s the beauty of this building and the conversations that mature over time.”
The Governor was also asked about his concerns that the debate over hate crimes legislation could resemble debate over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of a few years ago.
“Does it concern me? Yes,” he said. “Are we there? No. We have time to get this done, and that’s where I will spend my energy over the next two months.”
The topic of marijuana legalization also made headlines stemming from Holcomb's press conference, with Holcomb acknowledging he used marijuana in college.
The governor has opposed legalization efforts for medicinal and recreational marijuana in Indiana, a topic CBS4's Matt Smith explored in a special report last week.