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Sparks Fly As Senate Opens Consideration of Hate Crimes Bill

Bill stalled last two years, but Amazon quest, improved outlook in House could boost chances

(INDIANAPOLIS) - A sometimes-testy hearing on a hate crimes bill ahead of a committee vote next week.

The bill would allow judges to consider the targeting of a victim based on race, sex, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity as grounds for a longer-than-average sentence. Social conservative groups urged the Senate Criminal Code Committee to block it. The American Family Association-Indiana contends the law could be used as a springboard to target free speech, including pastors who criticize homosexuality in their sermons.

Terre Haute attorney and conservative activist James Bopp describes the groups included in the bill as simply those favored by "liberal and corporate elites." He contends listing groups the bill includes would prohibit longer sentences for targeting those who aren't named.

That sparked a tense exchange with the bill's author, LaGrange Senator Susan Glick, who pressed Bopp on why people of all races or religions wouldn't be covered by a bill covering race and religion.  

Indianapolis Senator Greg Taylor, who introduced a tougher version of the bill, expressed disbelief that the legislature passed a law making it a crime to point a gun at a police dog but still faces pushback over hate crimes.

Supporters note the list parallels groups protected under various civil rights laws, and reflects the groups most often targeted by hate crimes. Aliya Amin with the Muslim Alliance of Indiana says attacks on American Muslims and vandalism at mosques have jumped 19-percent. And La'Kysha Gardner of Fort Wayne sobbed as she described how her teenage son was beaten and left for dead by an attacker who'd been making racial threats for weeks. Gardner actually opposes Glick's bill, arguing it doesn't go far enough.

A representative of Attorney General Curtis Hill says Hill opposes the bill and wants it rewritten to focus instead on the acts committed. The office says it's still working on wording.

The committee will consider an amendment from Glick next week to add police officers to the list of covered groups -- that's one classification Bopp complained was absent. Another proposed amendment would take transgender Hoosiers out.

Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness and Indianapolis deputy mayor Angela Smith-Jones joined representatives of groups covered by the bill to argue for it on economic grounds. Fadness says companies need to be able to attract talent, and need to know that a welcoming environment awaits workers of all backgrounds. And Indianapolis Urban League president Anthony Mason reminded legislators that Amazon is likely watching their vote as the online giant considers its own decision on where to locate a new North American headquarters.

The House killed the bill two years ago, but Speaker Brian Bosma has said he now supports it. 

(Photo: lenzjona/Thinkstock)

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