IN House Democrats fail to insert hate crimes language into another bill

This January 2018 file photo shows the floor of the Indiana House of Representatives at the Statehouse in Indianapolis. ( Photo/Bryan Wells)
Victoria Ratliff

INDIANAPOLS (Statehouse File) — House Democrats were shot down by Republicans twice when they tried to add more detailed hate crime language to a bill that allows students to receive high school credit for religious instruction.

In the House Thursday, Reps. Greg Porter and Carey Hamilton, both Indianapolis Democrats, offered separate amendments to Senate Bill 373 that would have added characteristics like age, ancestry and gender identity to hate crimes legislation.

Democrats said that Indiana needs a more inclusive bill and that the hate crimes amendment in Senate Bill 198 that passed Tuesday falls short. That bill, which enhances punishment for drugs in prison, was amended by Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, to allow a judge to consider in sentencing whether the crime was committed with bias or a group’s “perceived characteristic, trait, belief, association or other attribute the court chooses.”

“A hate crimes law that doesn’t protect women or gender identity is not a hate crimes law at all,” Hamilton said in a statement after the House session ended.

Hamilton authored her amendment so that no one in Indiana would fall through the cracks she said are in SB 198. She also shared a personal story of a family member who identifies as transgender and said that she feels scared for their safety.

“I fear for this person,” she said. “We all have folks in this category in our communities that we need to protect.”

Porter’s amendment was similar and both were challenged on the grounds that they were not germane—or relevant—to the topic of the bill.

After the session, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, told reporters that Democrats knew the amendments weren’t going to be heard because he has been consistent in how he rules on the issue of whether amendments are germane.

Rep. Ryan Dvorak, D-South Bend, had argued that the amendments to the religious instruction bill were as germane as the hate crimes language Steuerwald added to SB 198. But on Monday, when the amendment was offered, Democrats did not challenge it.

“We didn’t want to have a debate on a procedural motion because we were going to debate on the substantive motion,” Dvorak said later of why they did not offer a challenge. Besides, it was likely to be accepted no matter what Democrats did, he added.

Bosma said later that he has confidence in SB 198 and its ability to act as an all-inclusive hate crimes bill.

“The omission of those specific characteristics or traits does not override the fact that the start of the bill says, 'any recognizable or perceived trait'," he said. "So, everyone is covered."

He said that there are states with fewer elements in their hate crimes legislation that have been removed from the Anti-Defamation League’s list of states without one and that SB 198 should get Indiana off the list.

SB 373 will go to the full House for action as religious instruction legislation. The original bill passed the Senate in February in a 40-8 vote.

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