Indiana's Regrettable Struggle to Pass Hate Crime Legislation

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It shouldn’t be this hard.

The Senate’s Public Policy Committee voted 9-1 in favor of SB-12 this week, a bill that would have codified (as written) hate crime bias to include protections for race, religion, color, sex, gender identity, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, and age.

SB-12 then made its way to the full Senate. Preceded by a lengthy deliberation by the Senate’s Republican caucus, the Senate voted 33-16 in favor of a watered down amendment to the bill, removing the pivotal definition of bias. The Senate soon followed with a vote on the entire bill, including the bias-stripping amendment. It passed 39-10.

We saw this fight coming. Before the legislature even went into session, the question of whether Indiana would pass meaningful hate crime legislation was the sole fixation of Statehouse prognosticators going into the 2019 session. Republican leaders preemptively cautioned that passing enumerated hate crime protections would be a tough hill to climb.

Social politics and cultural factors have undoubtedly influenced the debate. The fervent beliefs of those opposed to expansive protections are loud and wield tremendous political power. Similar to the originating architects of RFRA, those opposed to legislatively protecting categorized classes of victims have drowned out the pleas from business leaders who want Indiana to stop being center court for radioactive social battles and simply focus on creating a welcoming environment for prospective employees.

This talent attraction concern is well-founded. Indiana is in a workforce development war with competitor states. The challenge to create human capital capacity amid historically low unemployment has never been greater.

As site selectors, the most common question we field on the topic is whether issues such as RFRA and hate crime truly factor into the location decisions of businesses. Or, have interest groups manipulated corporate outrage around these issues in order to advance their progressive agenda?

Opponents against hate crime legislation argue this debate is much ado about nothing. The fact is that these issues do matter. A lot. The workforce is changing quickly. It’s younger, exceedingly more tolerant than the generations that came before, and significantly more influential in corporate decision-making. Today’s job candidates are more attuned to the policies of their prospective employers and the jurisdictions where they choose to business.

At their core, business decisions are based on fundamental principles of running a successful company. If businesses can’t find the necessary workforce to support growth, they will look elsewhere. Indiana’s self-inflicted wounds in the hate crime arena do nothing but hurt its reputation with companies and job seekers.

The Hall of Fame football coach Bill Parcells once said. “You are what your record says you are.” There are no moral victories in sports. You either win or lose. We’ve reached that point in Indiana’s failure to pass hate crime legislation. This isn’t about “giving it our best shot” or passing a generic law that cynically professes to cover everyone while protecting no one. We need to do this definitively and unambiguously or concede that Indiana believes some hate crimes are worse than others.

This is a call-to-action not just to legislators but to all of us. When a company considers locating its business in Indiana in the context of the hate crime issue, it doesn’t distinguish between those calling the shots and those opposed. Whatever the policy is, it becomes “our” hate crime policy. And, when CEOs deem that policy emblematic of a culture that celebrates Hoosier Hospitality except when we’re being our least hospitable, they view us as poor business partners.

We need to ask ourselves the question, "What kind of state do we want to be?"

That answer, much like the effort to pass hate crime legislation, shouldn’t be this hard.

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