Republicans in the Indiana Senate approved a sweeping amendment to a hate crimes bill that essentially strips it of even doing anything to address hate crimes — or anything at all.
Indiana is one of only five states that doesn’t impose any additional penalties for committing hate crimes. Senate Democrats had introduced a sweeping bill (SB 12) that would have established more robust hate crimes protections, as well as mechanisms to train law enforcement “on recognizing, investigating, and reporting bias motivated crimes.” It also would have added a number of protected categories, including age, ancestry, sex, and gender identity and specified that bias against any of the protected groups should be considered during sentencing.
But on Tuesday, Senate Republicans delayed the start of session by almost two hours while they developed an amendment behind closed doors. The amendment removed significant chunks of the bill Democrats had proposed, substituting a tiny addition of text (literally two words) to the state’s sentencing guidelines that tells courts they may consider bias when determining a sentence. It notably deleted the list of protected identities that, if targeted, would constitute bias for such considerations.
Only seven Republicans voted against the amendment, but none spoke out against it during debate. As the Indianapolis Star reports, this prompted Senate Democrats to stage a walkout, not returning for any of the other votes on the calendar.
Senate Republicans defended their amendment by insisting that the bill now “covers everyone.” But by covering anyone, the bill covers no one, because there will be no mechanism for assessing bias or reporting it. The United States is plagued by systems that massively underestimate hate crimes specifically because laws don’t include measures for accountability. Of the thousands of police agencies across the country that agree to participate in the FBI’s hate crime program, a vast majority of them inconceivably report zero hate crimes every year.
Many Democratic senators attempted to make this point, like openly gay Sen. J.D. Ford, who claimed the amendment would erase him, and African-American Sen. Lonnie Randolph, who pleaded, “Why don’t you recognize us?”
Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) bemoaned that the new bill “does not get Indiana off the list of states without a bias crime law,” but he didn’t say he wouldn’t sign it. The totally watered-down bill now goes to the Republican-controlled House, where it is expected to pass.
Indiana lawmakers have an unfortunate reputation for opposing any LGBTQ-inclusive legislation. In 2015, they passed a “religious freedom” bill that justified discrimination against LGBTQ people, which they later amended after a national outcry. This session, a bill that would mandate discrimination against transgender students is also on the table.