Indiana House committee tosses hate crimes bill

Indiana state capitol in Indianapolis.

Indiana state capitol in Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS — Legislation creating the state’s first hate-crime law to help victims targeted because of their race, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or other specified characteristic is expected to die because it won’t get a committee hearing in the House, leaving lawmakers few options to address civil rights this year.

The measure was introduced as Indiana faced criticism following the Republican-led Legislature’s approval of a religious objections law that, even after changes, opponents said invited discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Sen. Susan Glick, a Republican from LaGrange who authored the bill, said her proposal would help show that Indiana is a welcoming place.

“It’s really unfair for the state as a whole to be labeled as bigots because we are really not,” Glick, whose bill was co-sponsored by Democrats and Republicans, said earlier this month.

The Senate approved the legislation, which calls for creating a hate-crime designation allowing for tougher sentences by taking into account a victim’s “perceived or actual race, religion, color, sex, gender identity, disability, national origin, ancestry or sexual orientation.” According to the state police, there have been 45 to 55 incidents per year since 2011 that would qualify as hate crimes under the legislation.

The bill was scheduled to be heard next week — the last week for committee hearings in the Legislature — in the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee. But its chairman said the panel doesn’t have enough time. The committee also has bills that would enhance domestic battery and child exploitation punishments, create a child abuser registry, and alter how judges are appointed in Marion County.

“As a committee chairman, what is driving me is simply time,” said Rep. Thomas Washburne, a Republican from Evansville who has opposed the measure. “If you can only do so many bills, you’re going to do the ones that have the most substantive change.”

The decision means lawmakers could end the year with no course of action on extending civil rights protections. The bill could get taken to conference committee, dominated by Republicans. And House Minority Leader Scott Pelath said he hasn’t ruled out proposing more amendments to legislation still in the pipeline.

Bill co-sponsor Rep. Randy Truitt, a Republican from West Lafayette, said the measure was an opportunity for Indiana to join 45 other states that have some form of hate-crime laws on the books. Truitt said he wouldn’t strip LGBT protections from the measure, even if that would push the bill forward.

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