South Bend’s Democratic state senator Wednesday said he fears passage of a hate crimes bill that doesn’t specify types of hate could hurt Indiana economically as much as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act did in 2015.

“It’s looking every bit as bad as when we went through the RFRA spectacle of a few years ago,” said Sen. David Niezgodski. “This is not something that’s all-inclusive. They’ve stripped and gutted the bill.”

Niezgodski was referring to an amendment to a bias crimes bill the Senate passed Tuesday. As introduced, the bill allowed judges to increase sentences for violent or property crimes motivated by the offender’s hatred of a victim because of a list of factors including the victim’s race, religion, color, sex, gender identity or sexual orientation. But an amendment offered by Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, replaced the list of terms with simply “bias.” 

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb issued a statement saying the bill, as amended, won’t get Indiana removed from a list of five states that don’t have hate crime laws. Also lacking laws are Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina and Wyoming.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce also came out strongly against the amendment. The state’s largest business and economic development advocacy group has made passing a hate crimes bill one of its top legislative priorities this session.

“Indiana is in an intense battle for talent,” Kevin Brinegar, president and chief executive officer of the Indiana Chamber, told The Tribune. “For the first time in the history of this country, there are more job openings than there are job seekers. Our population is not growing (much) but just slightly, so we need to remove any barriers or inhibitors to recruiting skilled and talented individuals to our state. As part of that effort, we need to get off this list.”

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