IN Focus: Lawmakers on both sides discuss hate crime debate

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Lawmakers stopped a new attempt to add gender and gender identity to a hate crime bill on Thursday.

Senate Bill 12 passed the Indiana Senate last month after lawmakers stripped it of language identifying specific characteristics, including race, sexual orientation and gender identity, prompting criticism that the language did not go far enough in protecting potential hate crime victims.

The Indiana House passed a bill on Tuesday including a list of protected groups, but without listing age, gender or gender identity, through language added to an unrelated bill.

"The language that was passed is not enough. It needs to be fully inclusive so we need to get gender identity, age and sex added in also. We need to pass a law that doesn't just get us off the list of states that don't have a hate crimes law, but is actually fully inclusive protections for it," Indiana Youth Group CEO Chris Paulsen said. Indiana Youth Group works with LGBTQ youth.

"When you leave out gender, gender identity and age you're leaving out thousands of Indiana women," said Rima Shahid, executive director of Women4Change Indiana.

Thursday, a state lawmaker tried and failed to make an amendment to a measure about academic credits for religious instruction to add a protected class list for any bias crimes, including gender and gender identity. The House speaker said it didn't reflect the original intent of that bill, though. Democrats did not have enough votes to overturn the speaker's ruling.

"First, just the omission of those specific characteristics or traits does not override the fact that the start of the bill says any recognizable or perceive characteristic or trait, so everyone is covered. There are 21 states that have fewer designations than Indiana, or Indiana law 198, that are not on the list today," Speaker Brian Bosma said.

Now the Indiana Senate will determine what happens next.

"Not really ready to say exactly what we're going to be able to do with that. We're having lots of discussions about it. We'll probably know right about the first of next week, early next week. We'll be clear about how we're gonna handle that and what we're going to do with it," Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray said.

"What we would urge, as I stated, is take the bill to a conference committee, let's try to get those categories into the list, and then I think we can have a meaningful hate crimes legislation that we can be proud of and that we are sure of does protect every person in the state of Indiana," said Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane.

The new language was inserted into an unrelated bill on Monday, and called up for a voice vote without public debate.

Republicans, including Governor Eric Holcomb, call the bill a step forward for the state, while Democrats say it leaves out too many Hoosiers.

“It tells me that this is continuing, spiteful attacks on the transgender Hoosiers of our state, and it’s simply not necessary,” said State Sen. J.D. Ford, D-Zionsville.

“We need to cover everyone equally, and it needs to get us off the list,” said State Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis. “I think this bill’s going to do both and I would encourage both sides to hopefully find some common ground and agree on that topic.”

The governor said Tuesday that he believes this bill will get Indiana off the list of states without a hate crimes law, but progressives disagree.

The bill now goes back to the Senate, where it could still be changed in a conference committee.

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