The Indiana Senate passed a bias crimes bill Feb. 21 that would allow judges to consider bias generally when imposing a criminal sentence, but Black leaders, along with many Democrats and Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, are unhappy with what the bill came to be.
In its original form, Senate Bill 12 would have protected individuals and groups targeted for their race, religion, gender identity and other classifications, but the Senate approved an amendment Feb. 19 that stripped away that language. Indiana is one of five states without a hate crimes law.
“We cannot support that bill in its current form,” said Barbara Bollings-Williams, president of the Indiana chapter of the NAACP. “… [It’s] overly and unconstitutionally vague. They’re playing games.”
Bollings-Williams said she hopes the bill doesn’t pass in its current form and evoked a bias crimes law in Georgia that the state Supreme Court struck down in 2004 because it was “unconstitutionally vague” and so broad it could be applied to any possible prejudice.
The bill now moves to the House of Representatives, where the fight over protected classes of people will continue. In a statement, Rep. Robin Shackleford, chair of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, called SB 12 a “weak, watered-down effort to appease groups that choose not to believe that such crimes exist.”
“Those of us in the IBLC who serve in the House will not be quiet on bias crimes,” the statement continued. “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.”
House members who want to add language for protected classes back into the bill will have the support of Holcomb, who said in a Feb. 19 statement he 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.” Holcomb has not indicated if he would sign the bill as it is.
If the House amends the bill in any way, it will go to a joint House and Senate committee that will resolve the differences. If the committee settles on acceptable language for the bill, it will go back to both chambers to be voted on again.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.