By Lindsay Doty
The Indiana House voted to amend a drug crimes bill on Monday, so it includes a provision covering individuals impacted by hate or bias.
Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, offered the amendment to Senate Bill 198, a bill concerning sentencing to drug offenses.
Under the language adopted by the House, a judge could consider sentencing whether the offense was committed with bias based on the victim’s or groups perceived characteristic, trait, belief, association or other attributes the court chooses to consider.
“The intent in this bill is to cover every form of hate and treat every form of hate the same,” Steuerwald said. “Nobody, nobody is left out of this bill. Nobody. This is the most comprehensive bias crimes bill we can do.”
Several Democrats who have pushed for Indiana to adopt a hate crimes law argued that the wording in Steuerwald’s amendment didn’t go far enough to get Indiana off the list of five states with no hate crimes law. There was also criticism that Republicans did not seek public opinion on the changes.
House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, said that by not specifically including gender and sexual orientation, “it’s just not a comprehensive list.”
“House Republicans discussed legislation behind closed doors that bypassed the committee and public hearing process and failed to include gender as part of their list of protected characteristics,” GiaQuinta said. “As a majority women caucus, we refused to support a proposal that failed to protect more than half of Indiana’s population: women. We stand ready to work with House Republicans to pass a hate crimes bill this session that protects all Hoosiers. The ball remains in their court.”
The conservative American Family Association of Indiana supported the House version.
“This is a big win and a step forward for fairness for all, rather than justice for a select few,” Executive Director Micah Clark said. “The language amended into the bill by Rep. Greg Steuerwald affirms equal justice for all Hoosiers.”
Governor Eric J. Holcomb says he supports the amendment of Senate Bill 198 to include language pertaining to bias crimes.
“This measure covers all forms of bias crimes and treats all people equally,” Holcomb said. “Now, we need to make sure we get to the finish line and move Indiana off the list of states without a bias crimes law.”
The bill will go for a final vote in the House and is expected to pass. The Senate will then decide whether or not to accept the changes.