INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Eric Holcomb is calling on Hoosiers who favor a comprehensive bias crime statute, including a list of protected classes, to contact their state legislators and ask them to approve one.
The Republican chief executive said Wednesday he was taking the unusual step of encouraging public pressure on the General Assembly because he knows a hate crime law is widely supported by Hoosiers and state lawmakers don't seem to be hearing that.
"They need to contact the legislators that vote, their legislator, respectfully, and appeal to their hearts and minds why this is important; not just to them, but to the life of our state and to the future of our state," Holcomb said.
The governor reiterated Senate Bill 12, as approved last week by the Republican-controlled Senate, is insufficient to get Indiana off the list of five states lacking a bias crime law, because it provides no specific protections for individuals and groups traditionally targeted in hate crimes.
"Being vague about this does not get us off the list," Holcomb said. "If we seek to continue to foster a pro-growth business state, this is one of those boxes that we need to check."
Holcomb suggested in a meeting with reporters that if the Republican-controlled House is uncomfortable writing a protected classes list on its own, the House simply should insert in state law the list of protected classes entitled to hate crime protections under existing federal law, which already applies in Indiana to federal crimes.
That includes a victim's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
The original Indiana Senate proposal also included age and ancestry.
"There are folks who want to do nothing, that think what we have suffices. I disagree, respectfully. There are folks that are just against a list. I disagree, respectfully," Holcomb said. "We have all kinds of lists. We just passed a lot of bills with lists."
"And I will be happier when we have this list as well."
Beyond public pressure, Holcomb said he plans to continue meeting one-on-one with state legislators to remind them that enacting a bias crime statute is one of his top priorities for the annual legislative session that runs until April 29.
He's also willing to testify at a legislative committee hearing in favor of a comprehensive measure, if that's what it takes for state representatives and senators to add a protected classes list to the legislation.
At the same time, Holcomb observed, "For however many minutes that I would be testifying, that pales, that pales in comparison, to the effectiveness of the public contacting a legislator."
The proposed bias crime statute would not criminalize hateful thoughts or restrict individuals or institutions from expressing negative opinions about any person or group.
Rather, it would permit judges to issue prison sentences longer than the advisory term to any felon convicted of a crime that the judge concludes was motivated by bias toward specific characteristics of the victim.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said Tuesday he believes it's possible to reach that same policy outcome without a list of protected classes, since "any list that you have, some people are excluded."
"I understand the advocates' desire for a list. I really believe there needs to be discussion and compromise in that regard that covers everyone," Bosma said.
"It's my personal hope to pass a bias crime statute that gets us off the list (of states lacking one) this year."
Senate President Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, said the Senate would take a "very serious look" at approving bias crime legislation that includes a protected classes list, if that's how it comes back from the House and despite the Senate previously taking action to delete the list.