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Drastic changes made to Indiana's hate crimes bill

Posted at 7:17 PM, Feb 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-19 19:19:57-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Members of the Indiana Senate voted Tuesday to gut a proposed hate crimes bill in Indiana, leading Democrats to leave the room.

The amended bill removes all the specific victim characteristics that could be considered by a judge for an aggravated sentence – such as race, gender identity and sexual orientation.

Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, said the amendment covers everyone, and Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray said the amendment makes the bill more inclusive because judges can include any biases.

But the Democrats disagreed and gave passionate speeches on the floor.

“What this amendment does is basically saying, folks like me, I don’t exist,” said J.D. Ford, Indiana’s first openly gay lawmaker. “I don’t think that’s fair.”

The vote on the floor was 33-16, with seven Republicans joining Democrats to vote against the amendment.

The Republicans who voted no are:

  • Sen. Ron Alting, Lafayette
  • Sen. Eric Bassler, Washington
  • Sen. Vaneta Becker, Evansville
  • Sen. Mike Bohacek, Michiana Shores
  • Sen. Jim Merritt, Indy
  • Sen. Mark Messmer, Jasper
  • Sen. John Ruckelshaus, Indy

Gov. Eric Holcomb has called for a hate crimes law that includes the list of characteristics.

He released a statement on the amendment, saying it does not get Indiana off the list of states without a bias crimes law:

“We have a long way to go, a lot of work to do, and fortunately the time yet still to do it,” Holcomb’s statement reads. “I 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.”

With so many local organizations getting involved in the process, it has shades of the RFRA arguments of 2015.

“This is a disaster for the state of Indiana,” Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, said. “It might be worse than RFRA.”