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INDIANAPOLIS— The Indiana Senate approved legislation Tuesday aimed at getting Indiana off a list of five states without a hate crimes law, and Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb promised to sign the bill as soon as it reaches his desk.
The Republican-dominated chamber voted 34-14 Tuesday to approve the bill's bias crimes language after several Democratic senators urged its defeat, saying it falls short of what's needed because its language does not explicitly cover age, sex or gender identity.
Holcomb, who had pushed for more comprehensive legislation with an enumerated list of traits that include gender and gender identity, said he'll sign the measure, which would allow judges to impose longer sentences for crimes motivated by bias.
"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," he said in a statement.
Holcomb and other Republicans argue that the bill covers all 6.6 million Hoosiers because it covers all characteristics and traits, whether expressly listed or not.
The law's language refers to Indiana's bias crimes reporting statute that mentions color, creed, disability, national origin, race, religion and sexual orientation, but doesn't explicitly cover age, sex or gender identity. However, the bill says bias can also be considered due to the "victim's or the group's real or perceived characteristic, trait, belief, practice, association, or other attribute."
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A Senate committee had passed another hate crimes bill in February, but a few days later the state Senate stripped out a list of specific protected traits , including sexual orientation, gender identity and race.
Members of the House voted 57-39 last week to advance the current bias crimes legislation after the new language was amended into an unrelated bill.
Democratic Sen. Karen Tallian of Portage said during Tuesday's debate on the bill that while the original bias crimes bill went through an open legislative process that included debates and amendments, the measure that emerged from the House came from a process she called "obnoxious, cowardly and a disrespectful misuse of the system." She said the way it was handled was a failure of House leadership.
"It could have been taken from the playbook on how to minimize debate," she said. "There was no committee hearing, there was no committee debate. Instead it was slipped in a second reading amendment like a thief in the night. Throw it in there, vote right now ... This was a total shirking of duty."
Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane of Anderson said in a statement that he's "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," he said.
Holcomb has pushed for comprehensive hate crimes largely because the Anti-Defamation League lists Indiana as one of only five states, along with Georgia, South Carolina, Wyoming and Arkansas, without hate crimes protections.
The Anti-Defamation League said Friday that it was "deeply disappointed" by the legislation, saying in a statement that the current bill is too vague and "does not meet our standard for a real and effective hate crimes bill in 2019."
House Speaker Brian Bosma said Tuesday that the legislation "meets or exceeds" bias crimes statutes on the books in 21 other states "and all of those states are off the list of states without a bias crimes law."
"There's no reasonable assertion as to why this all-inclusive measure doesn't take Indiana off the list," he said in a statement.
The Indiana Chamber of Commerce's CEO, Kevin Brinegar, urged Holcomb to sign the bill, calling it "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," he said in a statement. "... 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.
In 2015, then-Gov. Mike Pence signed a religious protections law that critics widely panned as sanctioning of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. After the state faced boycott threats, lawmakers made changes to the law to prevent it from being used to justify discrimination against LGBT people in the state.