CEOs of Indiana tech companies call for specific bias crimes law

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind - Several CEOs from Indiana technology companies are calling for Indiana lawmakers to pass a hate crimes bill that specifically lists protected groups, comparing the discussion to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act controversy of 2015.

Members of the Indiana Technology & Innovation Association held a Wednesday news conference in the Statehouse atrium and argued that Indiana’s lack of a hate crime law is hurting their efforts to recruit talent from out of state.

“Technology is Indiana’s fastest growing sector, but we are in a death match for talent with other places and other states,” said John McDonald, CEO of Fishers-based ClearObject. “There are not enough skilled workers to fill the jobs that we’re creating every day. And so we can’t afford to have anything be a barrier to that talent and recruitment.”

“Passing a watered down unenforceable bias crimes law just simply reaffirms the reputation of Indiana as being socially regressive and essentially not inclusive,” said John Gilman, CEO of Zionsville-based Clear Software. “It really makes it difficult to run a technology company when we have this reputation because talent is our number one need.”

Last month, the Indiana Senate passed a biased crimes bill that allows a judge to consider bias as an aggravating factor when sentencing a person convicted of a crime. The bill did not include a list of specific characteristics such as race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. Critics called the removal of the specific list a watering down of the legislation. Senate Bill 12 was passed to the House and assigned to the committee on Courts and Criminal Code.

Members of the coalition said passing a bias crimes bill without the specific list would do nothing to improve Indiana’s reputation on social issues.

“I’m worried that if we don’t do this, we will have another RFRA on our hands,” said Anderson Schoenrock, CEO of Indianapolis-based Memory Ventures. “But this time it could be worse because it will be a second black eye on the state.”

Schoenrock said when he moved his business from California to Indiana, his company’s COO refused to make the move because of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act debate.

Avon Republican Representative Greg Steuerwald, who authored the House version of the bias crimes bill and signed on as co-sponsor for SB 12, says the comparison to the 2015 debate is off base.

“No, that’s not a fair comparison at all,” Steuerwald said. “What we’re trying to deal with here is making sure that every form of hate is covered, and that’s exactly what we intend to do.”

Steuerwald says the language in his bill, House Bill 1093, allows a judge to consider all types of hate without excluding any particular groups. The bill states a judge can consider bias as an aggravating circumstance if a person commits a crime “because of the individual's or the group's real or perceived characteristic, trait, belief, practice, association, or other attribute the court chooses to consider.”

“Worked very hard to make sure no form of hate is excluded,” Steuerwald said. “The judge is empowered to consider every form of bias under House Bill 1093.”

The comments come as Governor Eric Holcomb is traveling Europe in an effort to bring new business back to Indiana. Last week, the Governor said the Senate version of the bill would not be enough to get Indiana off the list of five states that do not have their own bias crimes law. The Governor said he wants lawmakers to pass a bill that includes specific list of specific groups. He suggested using language taken from federal hate crimes law and inserting it into Indiana law.

“And I say that coming from A, it’s the right thing to do,” Holcomb said February 27. “And B, it does, in terms of our business community, matter.”

Members of the ITIA say they appreciate Holcomb’s efforts, but they don’t believe the federal language would be sufficient because it does not include age discrimination.

Steuerwald said he couldn’t predict whether Representatives in the House will eventually insert a specific list.

“There’s pretty strong opposition to it at this point,” Steuerwald said. “I don’t know where we’re going to end up, but I do believe that the common goal for everybody is that there’s no form of hate excluded.”

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