Future uncertain for Indiana hate crimes bill during 2019 legislative session

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The 2019 Indiana legislative session is underway as of Thursday afternoon. Major issues facing lawmakers during this year’s session include funding the state’s massive budget, deciding whether medical marijuana is right for Indiana, school safety and a state hate crimes bill.

That last one could end up being a major sticking point for the state GOP, even though Indiana is one of only five states without a hate crimes law.

State lawmakers would like to avoid a rehash of 2015’s RFRA debacle, and that’s why they’re treading carefully when it comes to Senate Bill 12—this year’s proposal for a state-wide hate crimes bill.

“This will be one of those priorities this session that we need to get done,” said Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb (R).

There’s general cross-aisle agreement the state needs something of the sort; but the sticking point over getting it done is two words: gender identity.

“The issue really is, is it the right thing to do to separate a bunch of different classes out,” said Senate Pro Tempore Rod Bray (R-Martinsville).

The issue: whether a bill that covers race, sexual orientation and religion can also pass with specific protections for transgender citizens – something Indy Pride says is necessary.

“The bigger picture is inclusivity, that we are Hoosiers,” said Indy Pride Executive Director Chris Handberg, “but it’s not just about the LGBTQ community, it’s about those crimes that are based on race and religion and sex and gender identity.”

But proponents of the bill already fear it’s dead on arrival. That’s because it is in a committee with a reputation of being where bills go to die—the Senate Committee on Rules and Legislative Procedure, assigned there by Bray.

“The main purpose to do that is so we can as a caucus talk about that issue and find out what sort of form that bill has and if it has support,” said Bray.

Bray says that committee will allow for closer oversight and guidance. Supporters hope that’s truly the case.

“I’m taking the Pro Tem at his word when he says this does not mean that the bill will not get a hearing,” said State Senator and Democratic Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson).

The measure is widely supported by state business leaders. However, many religious conservatives fear the bill would lead to unwanted social change; leading some to hear echoes of 2015’s RFRA headache.

“We still have a RFRA hangover,” said Lanane. “I think there’s still a perception in the state of Indiana for whatever reason that we are not tolerant, and we are.”

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