A coalition of groups is pressuring Indiana lawmakers to revive legislation that would allow judges to impose tougher sentences for crimes motivated by factors such as a person’s race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Senate Bill 438 passed out of committee on a vote of 6-3 last month, but its sponsor, Republican Sen. Sue Glick pulled it from consideration on the Senate floor after conservative lawmakers introduced an amendment that she said would have gutted the bill's intent.
Indiana is one of only five states without a bias-crimes law, and David Sklar of the Jewish Community Relations Council said it's time to change that. Sklar said that since 2008, there have been over 400 hate crimes have been reported, according to data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He said the pace of such incidents has picked up in the last 18 months.
“We are seeing bias-motivated crimes happening in Indiana almost on a weekly basis," Sklar said Wednesday. "We have had bomb threats at our Jewish community centers, a bullet fired through the window of an Evansville synagogue, we've seen swastikas be spray-painted all over the place, the targeting of members of African-American community, the LGBTQ community, the Muslim community.”
The bill faced opposition from groups that believe it would create a special class of victims.
But at a Statehouse press conference Wednesday, Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said the bias crimes legislation would protect everyone.
"We all have a race. We all have a sexual orientation, we all have a gender. We all have a religion, even if that is non-religion. And so as a consequence, those who would focus on the fact that it is supposedly limiting those who would be protected by this is just not accurate. It would protect everyone."
Sklar acknowledged Wednesday that the bill is dead, but groups like his are now trying to make the case that there is still time to revive it before lawmakers adjourn next month. He said they're looking for a way to add the bias-crimes language to another criminal justice bill.
"There is still plenty of time for legislators to try to revive that language, insert it into another piece of legislation and ultimately move it through the process," Sklar said.