INDIANAPOLIS — The bias crime debate that has roiled the Indiana General Assembly this year could be over next week, if the Senate accepts a House proposal that was approved Tuesday following a legislative maneuver that bypassed any chance for public input.

Senate President Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, said the Senate Republican majority has not yet decided whether to concur with the House changes to Senate Bill 198, which would send the legislation to be signed by the governor, or to dissent and seek further revisions.

"We're in the middle of talking about that right now," Bray told reporters Thursday. "I'm not really ready to say exactly what we're going to be able to do with that. We're having lots of discussions about it. We'll probably know early next week."

The Republican-controlled House voted 57-39 to make it an aggravating factor, for which a judge can impose more than the advisory prison term, if a crime is committed "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, including but not limited to an attribute described in IC 10-13-3-1."

That Indiana Code reference lists "color, creed, disability, national origin, race, religion and sexual orientation" as specific potential bias crime victims, but it also includes a catchall that applies bias crime protections to a person "associated with any other recognizable group or affiliation."

Bray said he was not offended by the House declining to act on Senate Bill 12, which added "including bias" to the state's aggravating factors without adding a list of specific groups, or the House's decision to skip the committee process, including public testimony, to add its bias crime language as an amendment to legislation increasing penalties for possessing drugs in penal facilities.

"They've obviously put a lot of work into that and we're going to take a look at that," Bray said. "(Senators) have had continuing conversations about this bill. Other folks, from constituents to advocates, have talked to them since the bill left the Senate and everybody's trying to be very thoughtful about it."

"Ultimately, they're going to decide if it's good policy for Indiana or not," he added. "If everybody's a little bit agitated with it maybe you hit right down the middle and got the sweet spot. ... It's how the General Assembly works — you never make everybody happy all the time, that's for sure."

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, has no doubt that the House-approved proposal satisfies his goal of getting Indiana off the list of five states lacking either a specific hate crime law or a sentencing enhancement for bias-motivated crimes.

"There is no more complete list than what we passed. You cannot name a characteristic or trait, real or perceived, that is not included in Senate Bill 198," Bosma said. "It's a great solution."

No House Democrats voted in favor of the measure because they claim the failure to include categories, such as age, ancestry, gender and gender identity, in the partial list of attributes referenced in the plan could allow a judge to say those groups are not protected.

"House Republicans chose to move their own proposal behind closed doors and avoid any kind of meaningful public debate on this issue," said House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne.

"Our message to House Republicans is simple: You can run but you cannot hide from your responsibility to protect all Hoosiers. House Democrats will not stop until there is hate crimes legislation that protects everyone."

Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said he hopes Bray and Senate Republicans will look at how the process played out in the House and dissent from the House-approved measure, reopening the debate and allowing for public input on the proposal.

"I would suggest we don't have a bias crimes bill," Lanane said. "When you leave out wholesale categories, such as gender and age and gender identity, I think you're opening the door again to this interpretation by courts.

"We've said all along it needs to be comprehensive and it needs to be clear, and give direction to the courts as to what exactly is a hate crime in the state of Indiana."

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb has said he favors expanding the number of groups listed in the legislation, but also has indicated that he would sign the House proposal to achieve his goal of getting Indiana off the list of states lacking a bias crime law.

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