Bray replaces Long as Legislature prepares to tackle hate crimes, two year budget in 2019 session

Indiana lawmakers returned to the Statehouse in Indianapolis this week to get things ready for the 2019 legislative session, which will begin in January. And one of the first procedures at Tuesday’s Organization Day was for the Senate to formally vote on a replacement for Fort Wayne’s longtime Republican President Pro-Tem David Long.

Sen. Rodric Bray of Martinsville was elected by the Republican-dominated Senate to take over for Long, who retired after serving in the Legislature since 1996, the last dozen years as president pro tempore. They had picked Bray to become their new leader after Long announced he was stepping down earlier this year. Bray, an attorney, was first elected in 2012 to succeed his father in the Senate.

We wish Bray well as he leads the Senate in the coming year, especially on two particularly significant issues: a new, tight-fisted two-year state budget, and a likely contentious debate over a push for a state hate crimes law.

Indiana is one of five states that does not have a specific hate crimes law, even though the issue has been addressed by the General Assembly in years past. GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb announced his support for such a law in July, after someone spray-painted anti-Semitic graffiti at a suburban Indianapolis synagogue.

But current law already gives Indiana judges the discretion to enhance a sentence based on bias against the victims, even though the specific term “hate crime” is not used. News-Sentinel.com has taken the position that a specific hate crimes law is not needed, because every violation of the law requires the same punishment for the transgressors, and all victims deserve the same respect and concern for their well-being.

An Indiana committee formed to study hate crimes legislation this summer could not come up with a recommendation by October and passed the buck to the Indiana General Assembly to decide what to do. But the State Legislature has failed to do anything about the matter in past sessions. An effort to enact such a law this year failed before it could reach a vote in the Indiana House or Senate.

Also during the 2019 legislative session, which is set to begin in early January and end by late April, the Legislature must draft a two-year budget to fund school districts, universities and state agencies, such as the troubled Department of Child Services.

That agency has struggled with a big increase in child welfare cases and high turnover among overworked case workers. About 75 percent of new state revenues have already been earmarked for fully funding the department.

Other issues lawmakers expect to address in the new session include legalizing sports betting, legalizing medical marijuana, increasing teachers’ pay, designating more money for pre-kindergarten, and calling for redistricting legislation and ending partisan gerrymandering.

It should be an interesting session. David Long, we will miss you.

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