INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Eric Holcomb said Tuesday he would continue to urge legislative leaders to include a list of specific categories of potential victims, including gender identity, in a hate crimes bill that was stripped of those characteristics a day earlier.

"We have five weeks left to be persuasive about what we prefer. This is not a one-day scenario," Holcomb said.

"I want to make sure that I sit down with the leadership going forward ... not just today but over the next five weeks to make sure we get all that we can," Holcomb added. 

Previously, the governor pushed for a bill with a list of characteristics subject to bias. He suggested language that mirrored his administration policy or similar to federal law. Holcomb's policy, signed in 2018, specifically prohibits employer discrimination against employees due to sex, religion and gender identity, among other classifications.

Indiana has been criticized by national and state civil rights groups as one of five states without a bias crimes law. State law does allow judges to enhance a sentence if the crime was motivated by bias but the sentence is not mandated.

The fate of an inclusive list, and indeed the bias crimes bill itself, has been a tug-of-war in the Indiana General Assembly, which holds its final sessions during the last week of April.

In a move unexpected by many on Monday, the House added hate crimes language without a list to an unrelated Senate Bill 198. The measure was passed by voice vote in which House members did not have to cast a public "yea" or "nay." It also sidestepped public testimony on a bias crimes bill, also without a list, that passed the Senate.

Monday's amendment by Rep. Gregory Steuerwald, R-Avon, would allow a judge to use bias as an aggravating actor in sentencing a person who "committed the offense with bias due to the victim's or the group's real or perceived characteristic, trait, belief, practice, association, or other attribute the court chooses to consider."

Reaction was swift from House Democrats, whose 33-member caucus includes 17 women.

"Our caucus has been clear from the beginning: we want comprehensive hate crimes legislation that protects all Hoosiers. That is not what House Republicans proposed here today," House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta of Fort Wayne said in a statement.

"Instead, 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," he 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," GiaQuinta said. 

Others said the bill wasn't perfect but showed a positive sign for Indiana.

"Enacting this legislation is highly preferred over another General Assembly stalemate that would unfortunately enhance the false perception of Indiana as an unwelcoming state to work and live," Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar said in a statement.

Within minutes of the amendment's approval, Holcomb issued a statement saying he appreciated the House action, adding "This measure covers all forms of bias crimes and treats all people equally. 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.”

On Tuesday, following the Indiana Leadership Prayer Breakfast at the Indiana Roof Ballroom, Holcomb said the "finish line" could last five weeks.

"I want to express my profuse appreciation for what occurred yesterday. We could have found ourselves in a situation where nothing got passed," Holcomb said Tuesday.

He continued: "I support the progress absolutely and I support getting off the list which this does and this does cover everyone. The important distinction about what occurred yesterday is this does cover all forms of hate and it does cover everyone who might be victimized. That is serious progress."

"To get language passed through one of the chambers that I would believe would be eligible for passage in the Senate as well is better than nothing," Holcomb said.

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