A bill that would allow for longer sentences for hate crimes is moving forward with a significant change. Our partners at WIBC report the Senate passed an amendment Tuesday that removed the list of individual groups that would be covered under the law.
Originally, Senate Bill 12 said a sentence could be lengthened if someone convicted of a crime was found to have deliberately targeted someone based on factors including race, religion, and sexual orientation, among others. An amendment introduced by Senator Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis) removed that list and replaced it with a line that states sentences could be lengthened for reasons "including bias."
Freeman released a statement late Tuesday defending the amendment, saying he believes it covers all individuals.
Previously, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that Indiana’s existing sentencing law allows judges to aggravate a person’s criminal sentence based on a bias motive. My amendment would cement that concept into statute.
In the 2003 Witmer vs. State of Indiana ruling by the Indiana Supreme Court, the following was said:
‘… we have affirmed the notion that characteristics of the victims can support an enhanced sentence … and we say without hesitation that racially motivated crimes are intolerable and may constitute an aggravating circumstance.’
I stand by this notion and believe that with my amendment, this bill could be used by the courts to punish those who harm any individual because of a bias against their victim.
Senate Democrats walked out of the Senate chamber following the vote in protest of the amendment.
"Senate Bill 12, the most widely supported bias crimes bill by Hoosier businesses and communities, passed out of the Senate Public Policy Committee yesterday with a vote of 9-1 with overwhelming bipartisan support," Democrats said in a news release Tuesday. "Today, Senator Freeman authored an amendment that removes the list of protected classes from the bill telling Hoosiers that they don’t matter. They have chosen to continue to be one of five states without a true bias crimes law and have gone against the requests of their own governor."
Governor Eric Holcomb released a statement Tuesday expressing his disappointment in the move.
The version of the bill approved today by the Senate does not get Indiana off the list of states without a bias crime law. We have a long way to go, a lot of work to do, and fortunately the time yet still to do it. 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.
A final vote on Senate Bill 12 could come as early as Wednesday, according to WIBC.