JCRC — “Hollowed-Out Hate Crimes Bill Heads to House”

Rob Burgess, NUVO, February 21 019

Classes removed from SB 12; amended bill passes Senate 39 to 10

After a whirlwind few days, the amended version of the hate crimes bill, Senate Bill 12, passed the Indiana Senate on Thursday by a vote of 39 to 10.

On Monday, supporters had rejoiced as the Public Policy Committee advanced the bill including individuals targeted for their “perceived or actual color, creed, disability, age, national origin, ancestry, race, religion, gender identity, sex, or sexual orientation.”

Their hopes were dashed just a day later when the full Senate passed, by a vote of 33 to 16, an amendment to the bill Tuesday which removed all protected classes. The final vote came after Republican supermajority members huddled behind closed doors. It instead replaced the language with one word: “bias.”

“Today, the Senate accepted my amendment to Senate Bill 12, which I believe includes and covers all individuals. As it now stands, SB 12 specifies that a court could aggravate a person’s criminal sentence if bias is a factor in their crime,” stated State Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, on Tuesday. “Previously, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that Indiana’s existing sentencing law allows judges to aggravate a person’s criminal sentence based on a bias motive. My amendment would cement that concept into statute.

“In the 2003 Witmer vs. State of Indiana ruling by the Indiana Supreme Court, the following was said: ‘… we have affirmed the notion that characteristics of the victims can support an enhanced sentence … and we say without hesitation that racially motivated crimes are intolerable and may constitute an aggravating circumstance.’

“I stand by this notion and believe that with my amendment, this bill could be used by the courts to punish those who harm any individual because of a bias against their victim,” he said.


But, many in Freeman’s own party publicly disagree with him on the issue.

“This is the second year I have co-authored bias-crimes legislation,” stated Sen. John Ruckelshaus, R-Indianapolis. On Tuesday, SB 12 was amended to remove the list and replace it with language that allows ‘bias’ to be used as an aggravating factor at the time of sentencing. I voted against this amendment. I believe we need a specific list of characteristics in the law in order to protect Hoosiers.

“While I am disappointed the list was removed, today, I voted for the amended bill. One of my top priorities as your senator is passing a bias-crimes law. I believe this legislation is a step in the right direction and does provide more protections for Hoosiers than our current law.

“Again, I am not satisfied with the current version, but I still have hope for two reasons. First, this legislation moved further through the legislative process than it ever has since I have been elected. Second, we still have time to work on SB 12 while it is under consideration in the House of Representatives.

“I will continue to collaborate with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of the legislature to improve this legislation and hopefully restore the list of protected classes that was in the original version of the bill.”

Indiana—along with South Carolina, Arkansas, Wyoming, and Georgia—is currently one of only five states in the country without such protections. This fact has not gone unnoticed by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, who has long broken from his fellow party members to advocate for such a law.

“The version of the bill approved today by the Senate does not get Indiana off the list of states without a bias crime law,” he stated Tuesday. “We have a long way to go, a lot of work to do, and fortunately the time yet still to do it. I will continue to fight for the right ultimate outcome for our state and citizens this year so we’re not right back here in the same place next year.”


The fight over the bill now heads to Indiana House of Representatives. Rep. Robin Shackleford, D-Indianapolis, chair of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, promised to continue working to include protected classes in the House.

“The IBLC is certainly not surprised that the Indiana Senate supermajority again decided to avoid passing a responsible bias crimes bill this session. In its current form, Senate Bill 12 is nothing more than a weak, watered-down effort to try and appease groups that choose not to believe that such crimes exist,” she stated Wednesday.

“We share Gov. Holcomb’s disappointment at what the Indiana Senate supermajority did. Like the governor, the IBLC recognizes there is ample time to make things right before the end of the 2019 session.

“The battle now moves to the Indiana House. We know that the Speaker and his leadership would prefer this matter to simply go away, and that we pass Senate Bill 12 without a peep.

“Those of us in the IBLC who serve in the House will not be quiet on bias crimes. We will take every opportunity to pass a bias crimes law that protects all Hoosiers, regardless of a person’s race, religion, color, sex, gender identity, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, or age.

“The House supermajority will not be able to avoid voting on these issues, no matter how many parliamentary tricks they may choose to use. When we are done, the people of Indiana will know exactly how Indiana House Republicans feel about bias crimes.

“If we have learned anything through the years about this issue, it’s that we must be patient. One of our members—Rep. Gregory W. Porter, D-Indianapolis—has been fighting this fight for more than 15 years.

“But we know that we are right. Indiana needs a bias crimes law, and we will get one.”


Before this week, there had been a building momentum to pass a hate crimes bill with protected classes. Indiana Forward, a bipartisan group of representatives from the business, nonprofit, advocacy, education, and faith communities began its campaign recently.

At a minimum, the campaign believes that any bias crimes law should clearly enumerate at least the following immutable characteristics: race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, sex, ability, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

“We are deeply disappointed in today’s actions,” read a statement Tuesday. “We will not let this be the finish line for Indiana’s bias crimes legislation. Poll after poll indicates overwhelming support of Hoosiers for a strong effective and specific piece of legislation that protects all Hoosiers.

“We stand with Governor Holcomb in his unwavering support of a comprehensive bias crimes law with an enumerated list of characteristics that include: race, religion, color, sex, gender identity, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, and age.

“The changes made today to this legislation do not position Indiana to be removed from the list without a bias crimes statute. Without a list of characteristics, Senate Bill 12 is not a true bias crimes law.”

David Sklar, co-chair of Indiana Forward, released another statement Thursday after the Senate’s passage.

“It would be an understatement to say we are deeply dissatisfied in the passage of SB 12, a ‘bias crimes’ bill that has absolutely no teeth,” he stated. “As thousands of prominent Hoosier business, education, civic and interfaith leaders and concerned citizens – including the Governor – have made it clear this week, this legislation is not a real bias crime law. Only with a comprehensive list of motivating factors—characteristics which every person possesses—can Indiana’s bias crimes law give Indiana judges the precise and consistent policy direction they need to effectively deliver justice to the victims, their families and their communities.

“Beginning today, our focus now turns to the House, where we will double-down our mobilization efforts and join Gov. Holcomb in urging our representatives to pass a real law that will join Indiana with the 44 other states that have comprehensive, enumerated and legally effective bias crimes policies.

“The House has not given a bias crimes bill a public hearing in the past four years— it is now time for the House to do its job and put it to a vote.”


The feeling something would happen at the Statehouse this year was heightened after a July 2018 attack on Congregation Shaarey Tefilla in Carmel, in which a pair of spray-painted Nazi Party flags and Iron Crosses, along with burn marks, were discovered on the brick walls around the garbage bins outside the synagogue.

The Jewish Community Relations Council expressed “extreme disappointment” at the passage of the amended version of the bill.

“This is not enough,” they stated. “This is not what the leaders of Indiana’s business, sports, nonprofit, civic, law enforcement, local government, and institutions of higher education have advocated for. This is not what the breadth of faith, minority, and ethnic communities have been working toward over the past five years.

“After hearing three hours of public testimony in overwhelming support of a bill that enumerated the characteristics a judge could consider, the Senate Public Policy Committee passed Senate Bill 12 by a vote of 9-1, sending a resounding message that this could—and should—be the year Indiana comes off the shameful list of five states that lack a bias crimes statute. Senate Bill 12 made clear that our state would no longer tolerate crimes committed because of a person’s race, religion, national origin, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

“That optimism was decimated just 24 hours later when 33 members of the Indiana Senate voted in favor of Senator Aaron Freeman’s, R-Indianapolis, amendment to gut the bill. Gone is the language that gives specific direction to judges on what should be considered a bias crime; gone are the training requirements for law enforcement officers on how to recognize and react to bias crimes; gone is the needed update to our outdated bias crime reporting requirements. With all of this language removed, gone are all aspects of the bill that would have made the law effective; gone is the chance that Indiana would be removed from the list of 5 states without a statute; and gone is the moment when targeted communities felt they would finally be seen, and have some semblance of protection.

“While supporters of the stripped down language argue it provides broader protection by not limiting ‘bias’ to specific categories, they are well aware that this is not the case. At least one state court has struck down an un-enumerated bias crime law as unconstitutional. Prosecutors and judges in Utah, another state with an un-enumerated law, report complete frustration by the lack of clear and specific direction as to which types of crimes are most detrimental to society, and how to apply the law. As amended, Senate Bill 12 will leave too much ambiguity for the statute to have the intended and desired effect. It will be a law in name only. This was recognized by the Senate Public Policy Committee, Governor Holcomb, and the many other legislators and community leaders who opposed these amendments.

“The Jewish community is frustrated and feels unheard. In recent years, Jewish synagogues, schools, JCCs, and cemeteries in Indiana have been threatened, vandalized, and desecrated. Jewish Hoosiers are being targeted because of our religion, because we are Jews. Passing a real bias crimes bill is a critical way the State of Indiana acknowledges this important fact. At the exact moment when our community is experiencing the greatest increase in anti-semitic incidents in two generations, we need our legislators to heed our calls.

“The Indiana Jewish community established the JCRC in 1942, while the Holocaust was unfolding in Europe. The core of JCRC’s mission is to safeguard Jews by combating antisemitism and working in coalition with other groups that fight discrimination and bigotry through relationship-building and education. For over 40 years, the JCRC has maintained a respected presence in the Indiana State House, putting into action the Jewish values to pursue justice, love your neighbor, and not stand idly by.

“The Jewish community thanks the senators who voted ‘no’ on Tuesday’s amendment, and we continue to applaud Sens. Alting, R- West Lafayette, Bohacek, R-Michigan City, and Taylor, D-Indianapolis, as well as Gov. Holcomb, for their steadfast leadership on this issue. We urge the remainder of our state’s legislators to not stand idly by while Hoosiers are being targeted. There is still time during this legislative session to stand up and lead by modeling what it means to pursue justice and love your neighbor. Please do the right thing and lead our state forward by making Senate Bill 12 the effective bias crimes statute that Hoosiers support and need.”

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