INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana Senate is moving toward a vote on legislation aimed at getting Indiana off a list of five states without a hate crimes law, even as the bill's critics contend that it falls short of that goal.
Senate Republicans decided in a private meeting Monday to put the bill up for a final concurrence vote as early as Tuesday. If at least 26 senators approve the bill's bias crimes language, it would head to Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, who supports it, without any additional discussion or opportunities for amendments.
The bill's language would allow judges to impose longer sentences for crimes motivated by bias. It refers to Indiana's bias crimes reporting statute that mentions color, creed, disability, national origin, race, religion and sexual orientation, but doesn't explicitly cover age, sex or gender identity.
The bill, however, states that bias can also be considered due to the "victim's or the group's real or perceived characteristic, trait, belief, practice, association, or other attribute."
Holcomb and other Republicans argue that the bill covers all 6.6 million Hoosiers because it covers all characteristics and traits, whether expressly listed or not.
A Senate committee had passed another hate crimes bill in February, but a few days later the state Senate stripped out a list of specific protected traits, including sexual orientation, gender identity and race.
Members of the House voted 57-39 last week to advance the current bias crimes legislation after the new language was amended into an unrelated bill.
Holcomb has pushed for comprehensive hate crimes largely because the Anti-Defamation League lists Indiana as one of only five states, along with Georgia, South Carolina, Wyoming and Arkansas, without hate crimes protections. He's voiced support for the current bill, despite previously saying he wanted a bill with an enumerated list of traits that include gender and gender identity.
The Anti-Defamation League said Friday that it's "deeply disappointed" by the legislation, saying in a statement that the current bill is too vague and "does not meet our standard for a real and effective hate crimes bill in 2019."
But on Monday, Holcomb said that getting the bill passed, even if it's not perfect, is a necessity.
"I don't want to go back. I want to go forward. And this would be a tremendous step forward," the governor said.
Holcomb and others noted that the ADL had previously said that an enumerated list was needed and now appears to be going back on that.
House Speaker Brian Bosma said 21 states have the same number of descriptors or fewer.
"If (the ADL) wants the list to mean something, we'll be off the list," he said.
House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta cited the ADL's statement last Friday in urging Republican lawmakers to "reverse course so that we can work together to pass a hate crimes bill into law that protects all Hoosiers."
In 2015, then-Gov. Mike Pence signed a religious protections law that critics widely panned as sanctioning of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. After the state faced boycott threats, lawmakers made changes to the law to prevent it from being used to justify discrimination against LGBT people in the state.
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