INDIANAPOLIS - A hate crimes bill is now headed to the desk of Governor Eric Holcomb, who says he will sign it. Democrats have said the bill does not go far enough since it does not specifically mention sex, age or gender identity as protected attributes.

Senate Enrolled Act 198 allows a judge to consider during sentencing whether a crime was committed because of a victim's "real or perceived characteristic, trait, belief, practice, association, or other attribute the court chooses to consider." 

The amendment was approved last week by the Indiana House without public debate, which drew criticism from Democrats. Among the attributes covered under the bill are national origin, race, religion and sexual orientation, which are already covered under state law.

After the vote, Governor Holcomb released a statement declaring his intention to sign the bill:

Months ago, I decided to make protecting Hoosiers against bias crimes a key part of my 2019 legislative agenda.

Today, finally, Senate Bill 198, accomplished that goal and I will sign it into law as soon as it gets to my desk. 

Those targeted for crimes because of color, creed, disability, national origin, race, religion or sexual orientation are protected. But this new law goes further. It also will cover bias crimes committed because of other traits and characteristics, such as gender, or gender identity, or sex, or age, and other commonly targeted groups.

Our new law will allow judges to enhance sentences based on listed and non-listed categories. Criminals who attempt to instill fear by attacking others based, for example, on who someone loves, who they are, how they identify, how they pray, should know their sentences can, and I believe should, be enhanced to the fullest extent of the law.

Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) released the following statement on the bill's passage:

I am deeply disturbed that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle saw this language and thought that leaving out age, sex and gender identity from the list of protected classes was good enough.

The Republican supermajority showed their true colors this session in regards to their feelings towards our minority communities in this state. It is cowardly to not specify an all-inclusive list.

I want to remind the supermajority that they will not have the opportunity to boast getting Indiana off the short list of states without a hate crimes law. The Anti-Defamation League said themselves that this does not get us off the list.

The General Assembly had the opportunity to do the right thing here this session, and the Republicans in both chambers neglected their responsibility. It is inexcusable that all Hoosiers are not protected from crimes committed due an age, sex or gender identity bias.

I am also dismayed that this inadequate version was rushed through the House with decisions made behind closed doors and no opportunity for public debate. For this reason alone, this bill should have been dissented upon by the Senate Republicans so that further efforts to restore the complete list that passed on a bipartisan basis in the Senate Public Policy Committee could occur.

Kevin Brinegar, president and chief executive officer of the Indiana Chamber, expressed his support of the bill, but added that more could be done:

The bias crimes legislation heading to the Governor is a big step in the right direction. Though the list is not as comprehensive as we had advocated for, what the Legislature has passed is still a meaningful hate crimes bill. It is more inclusive than some states’ laws and on par with others. Not to mention, it’s far better than having no law at all. We encourage Gov. Holcomb to sign the bill.

To those wanting a perfect bias crimes bill that spells out everything, we hear you and we understand; that was our shared goal. While that’s ideal, it was not politically realistic at this time. It has taken the state 25 years to get to this point and in today’s climate, doing nothing wasn’t an option in our view. No one should want to perpetuate a false perception about our state being unwelcoming; that only exacerbates our workforce challenges.

Separately, we are disappointed by what we believe is an unfair preliminary assessment of Indiana’s bill by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The legislation contains a list and additional language intended to cover those not specifically spelled out. We strongly encourage the ADL to reassess its position on Indiana’s status and remove the state from the list of those without a hate crimes law.

A timeline for Holcomb to sign the bill was not given.