LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - For Senator Ron Alting, making sure everyone is included in the new bias crimes bill is paramount, but some state lawmakers want to think twice about that for the safety of the bill.
“We need to put our actions in writing and make sure the rest of the country and world knows that Hoosiers believe this," said Indiana District 22 Senator Ron Alting.
He is co-authoring a bias crimes bill with District 8 Senator Mike Bohacek. Senator Alting said they made it a priority to add some kind of verbal inclusion of every background into this bill and that the language was clear, with little room for interpretation.
Indiana is one of five states in the nation that does not have this kind of legislation. The Senators authoring this bill want to get Indiana of that list as soon as possible.
“Hoosiers are better than that,” said Senator Alting.
He said it was important to make sure no one could be left out of this bill.
"It covers somehow some way with legal wording or not every group of people that there is," he said. From LGBTQ, to our first responders, even to white supremacist groups, it's all about protecting our constitutional right to free speech.
“Even if the KKK wants to have a rally, their speech in terms of what they are saying is protected in this,” he said.
It’s when words turn to actions that the new law would come into play. He wants the parameters of what is breaking the law and what is not to be very clear to judges.
But it’s not white supremacy groups that has some lawmakers worried when it comes to this bill passing, it’s “gender identity.” This refers to the transgender community.
Speaker of the Indiana House, Brian Bosma, has expressed concern on if the bill will successfully pass both the house and senate if "gender identity" is included.
He said in a statement, “My recent comments regarding hate crimes legislation focused on what I believe has the best chance of passing both houses of the General Assembly in the coming session. There are passionate people on all sides of this issue, and successfully threading this needle will be extremely difficult. I personally believe that using the bias crimes definition currently in statute and adopting a sentence aggravator linked to that definition has the best chance of success."
“Trying to remove gender identity from the bill is inviting crime against the transgender community,” said Nicki Anderson, co-director of Trans-Lafayette. “Its saying that it’s ok and it’s not ok.”
Senator Alting said it's normal, and expected, for not everyone in the statehouse to be on board.
“That’s what democracy is all about and that’s what makes a good bill,” he said. “I respect those that believe on the other side and I respect them having the right to disagree.”
However, some key players are on board. Namely Governor Eric Holcomb has said he supports the bill with “gender identity” included.
“I’m super excited that we have a lot of leaders who are not just Democrats but also Republican who support this,” said Anderson.
“It tells you what kind of a governor we have in Governor Holcomb,” said Senator Alting. “Our governor has enough common sense and enough compassion and caring for all people and believes in inclusion to know that this language needs to be in and it needs to be passed.”
Similar laws have been passed in individual communities around the state such as Indianapolis, Bloomington, Lafayette and West Lafayette. Senator Alting recalled being the deciding vote on passing the law in Lafayette.
“The sky is not falling in these places,” he said. “Life will move on and it’s just that it will move on in respect of all people.”
Respect Senator Alting said he believes is true to the core of Hoosier values.
“We’re a loving people, compassionate, caring, inclusive, we respect all people,” he said. “We don’t necessarily agree with a lifestyle or a country where someone came from, but what we do agree is we respect that you have the right to believe in what you want to believe.”
Anderson believes the safety of the transgender community will be in jeopardy if they are not included.
"The transgender community is the most vulnerable and the people that are going to have the most crime against them because of who they are,” she said.
She emphasized that they are ordinary people with the right to be protected.
"They're your neighbor, they're your person at the grocery store, they're the person standing next to you at the bank,” she said. “They are no different."
Some are worried that this bill could bring back the ghost of hard memories that were a result of the Religious Freedoms Restoration Act. That if this doesn’t successfully pass, Indiana could be burned on the national stage again.
“This bill is very black and white that is laid out so layman can read it and understand it,” said Senator Alting. “We’re not putting a smoke screen like they did the RFRA bill.”
He said if the bill fails, he doesn’t expect it to bring nearly the amount of backlash from the nation that RFRA did, and shared why this bill is important for Indiana’s growth.
“We need it for economic development, to bring and recruit good scientists,” he said. “We need it at our universities to attract and retain good professors but more importantly, we need it because it’s the right thing to do.”
He said he has a question he asks his colleagues who may be on the fence: “This is simply are you in favor of protection of all people in the great state of Indiana or are you not?” he said.
He said gender identity is not going anywhere in the Senate’s version of the bill.
“In terms of the Senate, we will keep that language in the bill and we will vote on it with that language in it,” he said.
He said it’s time for change.
"It's been talked to death for years,” he said. “This is something we just need to do and move forward."
The bias crimes bill will be part of the 2019 legislative session which starts on January 3rd.
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