News-Sentinel Editorial:” Hate crime bill moves state in right direction

The hate crime bill approved by the state Senate on Tuesday and expected to be signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb appropriately addresses bias-motivated crimes and accomplishes the goal of underscoring that Indiana is welcoming to all.

Indiana is just one of five states — the others are Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina and Wyoming — without hate crimes legislation in place. Holcomb has made getting such legislation approved a top priority for 2019.

The bill amends the Indiana Criminal code to give judges the leeway to impose harsher sentences for crimes committed with bias toward the victim. Specifically, the bill states judges may consider bias to be an aggravating factor if the “person committed the offense with bias due to the victim’s or the group’s real or perceived characteristic, trait, belief, practice, association, or other attribute.”

Much like the House, which approved the bill on a 57-39 vote, the Senate voted overwhelmingly (34-14) in favor of the bill.

“This is not a racist bill. This is not a homophobic bill. This is a bill to give bias crime protection to everyone in Indiana,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores. “Everybody is on the list.”

Unfortunately, not everyone shares Bo-hacek’s sentiment. Critics of the bill — including Democrats, the ACLU and the Anti-Defamation League — dismissed the bill as vague and ineffective. Critics said age, sex and gender identity should be explicitly included in the legislation.

In addition to the lack of specificity, the ACLU argued the bill could stifle free speech.

State Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, said Holcomb should be ashamed for support-ing legislation she said was an “empty, hollow bill that pretends to be a hate crimes bill.”

Breaux’s colleagues shared her sentiments, with not a single Senate Democrat voted for the bill.

How disappointing. One would think Democrats would support the hate crimes bill as a step in the right direction, even if they felt it needed to be amended in the future.

Contrast that approach with the perspective of Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, maintained as someone who has sponsored hate crimes bills in the past that came up short.

“I think it’s more comprehensive than some options we’ve had in the past,” she told the Journal Gazette. “It didn’t go as far as some people want, but no legislation satisfies 100 percent of the people all the time. I feel pretty good about it.”

So does Holcomb. The bill is a clear win for the governor, even if he too wanted tighter controls on the project.

“Criminals who attempt to instill fear by attacking others based, for example, on who someone loves, who they are, how they identi-fy, how they pray, should know their sentences can, and I believe should, be enhanced to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.

Holcomb is right, not only from a bias perspective but also from an economic development one. It’s important — for recruiting employees and industry — that Indiana be open to all.

The hate crimes bill isn’t perfect but it definitely moves the state in the right direction.