(INDIANAPOLIS) – The legislative battle over Indiana’s hate crimes law is over, but the battle over what it means may be just beginning.
The hate-crime watchdog Anti-Defamation League issued a statement calling the law inadequate and unacceptable, because it doesn’t include age, gender or gender identity. Governor Holcomb suggests the ADL has moved the goalposts. He says the ADL called for a bill with a specific list of protected groups, and that’s what legislators passed, allowing judges to impose longer sentences for crimes targeting those groups.
House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) says the ADL has political motivations for not supporting the law, and says if the ADL doesn’t take Indiana off its list of states without a law, the list means nothing. He says 21 states whose laws the organization does recognize covers the same groups as Indiana’s law, or fewer.
Holcomb and Bosma note there are other groups which track state-by-state hate crime laws. Bosma says he expects the National Council of State Legislatures to take Indiana off its list of states without one.
All states with hate crime laws include racial, religious and ethnic prejudice. Indiana joins 30 states whose laws address crimes targeting sexual orientation.
Holcomb says he hopes and expects businesses will point to the law to show prospective workers Indiana is a welcoming state. He says even the groups which aren’t listed specifically are covered by wording which extends the law to any other identifiable characteristic. Critics charge that language is too vague — the American Civil Liberties Union contends it makes the law unconstitutional. Other groups argue even if it’s legally sound, it undermines the rest of the law by putting decades of racially-tinged violence on a par with distinctions like wearing a rival sports team’s jersey.
Bosma says those critics don’t give judges enough credit. The law allows judges to decide whether the circumstances of a case, including a hate-crime element, justify a longer than normal sentence.
And Holcomb’s office released a letter from former Indiana Supreme Court Justice Frank Sullivan, a Democratic appointee, who says considers the law clear and legally sufficient to allow longer sentences even for attacks on groups not specifically listed, like transgendered Hoosiers.
Gov. Eric Holcomb (Photo: Eric Berman/WIBC)