Still pushing for hate crime law

March 18, 2019

MICHIGAN CITY – The Interfaith Alliance of Michigan City hosted a forum on the status of an Indiana Hate Crime bill, a topic of significant importance in the wake of the recent terrorist attack on two mosques in New Zealand that left 50 dead and dozens more injured.

State Senators Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, and Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores; and State Representative Pat Boy, D-Michigan City, spoke and fielded questions about Senate Bill 12, the proposed bias-crime legislation that recently failed to pass in the Indiana Senate.

Indiana is one of only five states in the nation to not have bias crime legislation formally in place. Senate Bill 12 listed specific groups that would be protected if it were to become a law, including race, religion, color, sex, gender identity, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation or age.

If the bill were to become law, perpetrators who committed crimes against victims because of their perceived affiliation with the any of these groups, they would be charged with a separate crime.

Tallian spoke from her experience as a practicing lawyer.

“There is a difference between making a separate crime versus making it aggravating circumstances on an existing crime. The idea is that you have a second crime that would relate to the seriousness of the underlying issue.”

Senate Bill 12 looked promising earlier in the year when it passed through committee on a 9-1 vote. However, when the bill moved to the Senate floor, it was amended to remove some protected groups and would only allow the court to aggravate a person’s criminal sentence if “bias was a factor in their commission of the crime.”

Boy explained the necessity of the bill, saying “it requires law enforcement agencies to report bias-motivated crimes to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“The bias part is a separate page in the charging instrument, the courts. After they decide the crime, then the bias is considered as well. If they prove there is a bias there is additional sentencing, of course.”

Bohacek was disappointed to see Senate Bill 12 amended to not include the list, saying, “Even our most conservatives of conservatives support this law in the high 50s.”

As to why the bill has not passed, he said, “I think it’s just some longstanding beliefs among the legislature.”

Bohacek remains hopeful the bill will move forward in the House, and perhaps be amended to once to again include the list approved by the committee.

Tallian alluded to Indiana lawmakers being unwilling to criminalize hate crimes against one particular group the bill aimed to protect.

“I’m telling you, if the words ‘gender identity’ weren’t in there, Mike would have gotten his bill passed,” she said.

The House bill is currently awaiting a hearing in the Committee on Courts and Criminal Code. To track its progress, visit iga.in.gov.

For more coverage on the New Zealand mosque attacks see page B4