Indiana Forward campaign rallies for hate crimes law

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Marilyn Odendahl for www.theindianalawyer.com

As they did in January 2018, supporters of hate crimes legislation rallied Tuesday in the Indiana Statehouse to again push lawmakers to add a bias-motivated crime statute to the Indiana law books.

Advocates from a broad array of groups, including business, education, nonprofits and faith-based organizations, were on-hand to applaud and cheer as legislators and community leaders called for Indiana to join the 45 other states with hate crimes law.

“For more than 100 years, our United Way has worked to make our six-county region a place to live, work and raise a family,” Ann Murtlow, president and CEO of the United Way of Central Indiana, told the crowd. “However, we cannot claim to be a great place to live, work and raise a family unless we have strong public policy that addresses bias-motivated violence in our state.”

Democrats and Republicans in both chambers are filing hate crimes bills, and Gov. Eric Holcomb has publicly expressed support for such a law. However, Rep. Gregory Porter, D-Indianapolis, cautioned the crowd to prepare for a long fight.

Porter, who has again introduced a hate crimes bill in the House of Representatives, noted the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus has been advocating for a bias crimes bill since 1999.

“There’s an eternity from this day in January to the end of April,” Porter said, referring to the end of the 2019 General Assembly session. “We’re going to have to stay focused, we’ve got to stay strong, we have to stay together.”

This year, the advocates have launched the Indiana Forward campaign to push for a hate crimes law. Also, they are specific that they will only support a legislation that includes the list of protected classes like sexual orientation, gender, race, ethnicity and gender identity.

House Bill 1020, authored by Rep. Anthony Cook, R-Cicero, enumerates the characteristics and expands the list to include law enforcement officers and members of the armed services.

Cook pointed out that the list in his bill is consistent with the list in the Indiana Civil Rights Act, the state’s bias crimes reporting statute, the legislation that amended Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the executive branch handbook.

Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, has also introduced a hate crimes bill, but rather than list the protected classes, the measure has more general language.

Cook did not mention Steuerwald or his bill by name, but the Cicero legislator emphasized Indiana’s hate crimes law must list the protected classes.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it is not time to compromise the most frequently targeted victims…,” Cook told the crowd. “It is time, instead, to pass a strong bill … not a watered-down hate crime bill without explicitly protecting the most victimized.”

To date, Porter’s, Cook’s and Steuerwald’s bills have been assigned to the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee. Led by Republican Rep. Wendy McNamara, the committee has not scheduled any hearings.

In the 2016 and 2017 legislative sessions, hate crimes bills introduced by Sen. Susan Glick, R-LaGrange, have gained the most traction. But neither bill was voted on by the full Indiana Senate, and last year, her measure did not get the support of the committee.

Glick did not attend the rally, but she did confirm to Indiana Lawyer that she will again be introducing a bias crimes bill. As with her past bills, this one will include a list of protected classes.

“I just think in my mind, it’s very important to have those lists, but in other people’s mind that may not be the fact,” Glick said, noting the Legislature will have to come to a consensus. “There’s 150 people to vote on this, so we’ll see what they all have to say.”

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