Social Justice Op-Ed: Making the Case, Again, for Hate Crimes Legislation

Op-Ed: Making the Case, Again, for Hate Crimes Legislation

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Op-Ed: Making the Case, Again, for Hate Crimes Legislation
By State Senator Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis)
Word Count: 781

Events in Charlottesville this past weekend have finally alerted my colleagues in the legislature, as well as Governor Holcomb, to the possibility that hate crimes legislation is needed in Indiana. For the past five years, I have advocated for increased penalties for crimes committed on the basis of bias towards another person.  My friend and colleague, State Representative Greg Porter has also been advocating on behalf of this same legislation for many more years.

So why now do Republicans in Indiana feel the increased need for hate crimes legislation in Indiana? Why does it take events outside of Indiana involving non-Hoosiers for Speaker Bosma and others to reconsider this proposal? I venture to say that my Republican counterparts feel the need because of President Trump’s divisive and dangerous rhetoric, and I wish that they would come out and denounce his words. The Speaker should then author his own meaningful hate crimes law and work with Indiana Democrats to get the bill approved. But first, I want to outline the necessity of this legislation and what should be included.

As of today, Indiana is one of just five states that does not have some version of hate crimes legislation on the books. Though I respect Speaker Bosma and his recent denunciation of the events and message of last weekend’s attack, there has been ample time to study and implement legislation that could protect vulnerable Hoosiers from hatred and bigotry. Bipartisan legislation authored in 2016 passed the Senate but was killed in the House, and this year’s legislation was so watered down that its passage would not have accomplished the intended goal.

Speaker Bosma has argued that hate crime legislation is unnecessary because a judge can already apply a maximum sentence for any reason. That is true as far as it goes, but it does not change the fact that Indiana needs to send a strong message that hate will not be tolerated. That is why I have supported recent legislation specifying that judges should consider bias motivated crimes an aggravating circumstance, allowing judges to impose a maximum statutory sentence for bias motivated offenses. What’s more, contrary to what has been discussed in the media, during the 2017 session the Senate had the opportunity to vote on Amendment 21 to the budget bill that would insert bias crimes protections. This language failed on a party line vote of 39-9.

Now that Hoosiers have the attention of their leaders in the House and Governor’s office, I believe that the only answer for Indiana is to implement legislation that would enhance the penalty for hate crimes. I will be proposing legislation that will allow a court to impose an additional fixed term of imprisonment if the court finds that an individual committed a bias motivated offense. This would allow the court to impose a sentence that accurately reflects the harm and devastation to the community that these offenses can inflict. This is not new, there are already laws that require courts to enhance penalties for acts against classes of individuals (eg: children, the elderly, persons with disabilities).

Enhancing the penalty for hate crimes is just one part of what I believe should be comprehensive hate crimes reform legislation. In 2003, the state legislature authorized a measure that required local law enforcement agencies throughout the State of Indiana to report any and all hate crimes to the State Police. As of last year, only four local police departments in Indiana reported any hate crimes in Indiana. Those departments included Indianapolis and Bloomington. At face value, this looks like Indiana may not have a hate crimes issue. But, do any of us really believe there are not more hate crimes occurring throughout the state?

It is my belief that the lack of reported hate crimes is not due to the absence of crime, but rather the lack of training in our local police departments to understand and recognize hate motivated crimes. Therefore, along with legislation that will enhance the penalty for hate motivated crimes, I will seek legislation that fosters education for our local police forces in identifying hate crimes.

Seeking strong legislation that is not watered down and enhances the punishment for hate crimes cannot succeed if any person is left out of the legislation. It will be critical to the success of this bill for all people to be protected regardless of their perceived race, color, creed, disability, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity. As the state legislature moves toward the 2018 legislative session, I plan to work with my colleagues in both houses and on either side of the aisle to implement a strong, succinct bill that will protect all Hoosiers.