A new poll may help efforts to enact a hate crimes law in Indiana.
A statewide survey of 600 registered voters for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce found 74 percent favor such legislation. The business organization supports passage of a hate crimes, or bias crimes, bill as an economic development initiative.
“Indiana is a warm and welcoming state,” Kevin Brinegar, the group’s president and chief executive officer, said Tuesday in releasing the poll results. “But it is time to remove any perception that is not true and, most importantly, remove Indiana from the short list of states without a bias crimes law.”
The chamber said support crossed political party lines — 63 percent among Republicans, 75 percent for independents and 84 percent for Democrats.
Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, has said he supports legislation that would see Indiana join 45 other states and the District of Columbia in imposing stronger penalties upon conviction of bias-related crimes.
At least eight such bills, five in the House and three in the Senate, have been filed in the General Assembly. Most, but not all, specify characteristics of victims that would trigger hate-crime provisions, such as race, gender, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. Holcomb favors such specifics.
“It is needed legislation,” said Sylvester Edwards, president of the Greater Terre Haute NAACP branch. “If anyone has ever been bullied, for whatever reason, they should be on board with this.”
Efforts have been ongoing for about 40 years in Indianapolis to pass a hate crimes law. Edwards suggests Indiana is among five hold-out states because most of the state’s legislators are not affected.
“The problem is those who are voting on the bill are those who may not have this problem,” he said. “A lot of times that’s a bias because they don’t fit in a category that a hate crimes law would help. They’ve got to put aside their bias.”
One Wabash Valley state representative, Bruce Borders, has gone on record as opposed to the hate crime proposals.
Borders, R-Jasonville, speaking at a recent crackerbarrel session at the Vigo County Public Library, said Indiana judges are already given discretion in using bias as an aggravating circumstance when handing down a sentence.
He also was one of four Republican state representatives who submitted an opinion-editorial piece that argued crimes should be determined by actions and not underlying thoughts or motivations.
“This legislation seeks to challenge centuries of Western civilization, where individuals are judged by their actions. The new legislation would replace this Western legal tradition by giving prosecutors and judges the authority to prosecute and sentence based on perceived thoughts, ideas, and beliefs,” the lawmakers wrote.
They argue such an approach is ultimately dangerous to the public’s civil liberties and actually leans toward further state control of the individual.
Other poll findings
On other matters the Indiana Chamber has on its list of key issues for this year’s legislature, the poll found 62 percent of voters support an increase in the cigarette tax while 65 percent favor raising the legal smoking age.
Eighty-six percent of those polled endorsed additional state investment in preschool.