The statehouse debate over a hate crimes law will resume in January, without a recommendation from a study committee.
Opponents have argued a hate crimes law would devalue groups targeted for reasons the law doesn’t list. Coalition of Central Indiana Tea Parties attorney Michael Morris argues he was targeted in the ’70s for his military service in Vietnam. And Indianapolis Senator Mike Young notes a gunman targeted members of Congress at a softball field last year because they were Republicans.
David Sklar with the Jewish Community Relations Council and other supporters say they’d have no problem with adding those groups to a hate crimes bill. But Morris says that’s not the point. He argues there shouldn’t be a list of protected groups at all.
A study committee heard nearly six hours of testimony, but opted not to draft or recommend a proposed bill, instead leaving it to the full legislature to decide what’s next.
Indiana is one of five states without a hate crimes law, but Representative Tom Washburne (R-Inglefield), who chaired the committee, says that’s misleading. A catchall provision in the law allows judges to use anything they see fit in their rationale for imposing longer sentences, and the Indiana Supreme Court has specifically said that racial motivations can be used under that clause, even though they’re not mentioned specifically.
Supporters, including Sklar, Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry (D), the Indy Chamber, and a business coalition argue the point of a law wouldn’t be to file a bunch of cases, but to make an explicit statement that targeting specific groups is an offense against the entire community and won’t be tolerated.
American Family Association of Indiana executive director Micah Clark argues the current catchall provision is “the best hate crimes law in America,” because it treats all groups equally, rather than singling out any for protection.
The FBI calculates there were 6,000 hate crimes in the U.S. last year, half involving racism. Most of the rest targeted religion or sexual orientation.
Every state with an explicit hate crime law specifically mentions racial prejudice. Most cover religion and sexual orientation, and about a third cover gender identity. Four states include political affiliation, and Louisiana’s law includes military service.
Bills allowing longer sentences for hate crimes have died in the Senate the last two years, and in the House the year before that. Governor Holcomb has said he’ll support a hate crimes bill in the 2019 legislative session.