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(INDIANAPOLIS) – Senate Republicans have begun behind-the-scenes discussions of what a hate crimes bill should look like.

President Pro Tem Rod Bray (R-Martinsville) is holding the Senate version of a hate crimes bill in the Rules Committee, which he chairs. He says he’ll reassign it — or potentially hold a hearing himself — after Republicans hash out what form of the bill they can support.

A bill allowing judges to use hatred as a basis for longer sentences when someone’s convicted of a crime passed the Senate in 2016, but opposition among Republicans has stalled the bill the last two years. Bray says the debate continues to be about which groups should be listed as likely targets of discrimination. Protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity have been the most controversial.

Governor Holcomb is backing a hate crimes bill for the first time this year, after staying out of the debate in his first two years in office. He’s pushing for an all-inclusive list encompassing gender identity, similar to the list he spelled out for employment discrimination in the executive branch.

Indiana is one of four states without a hate crime law. All but two states specify hate crimes targeting race, and most states also cover crimes targeting a person’s sex, sexual orientation or disability. Nearly half of state hate crime laws cover religious bias, and a handful of states cover crimes targeting a person’s age, political affiliation, homelessness, or military service.

The most-discussed proposals wouldn’t create a separate crime, but if someone was found guilty, the law would allow judges to impose harsher sentences based on the motivation for the crime.

House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) is talking up a House bill which scraps the list entirely and allows longer sentences for crimes motivated by any characteristic. Holcomb says there are serious constitutional concerns about that approach — a similar law in Georgia was struck down as too vague.

The no-list bill is one of four hate crime bills filed in the House — Bosma isn’t ruling out starting the process there if the Senate gets bogged down.

Bray says he hopes the bill is ready for a public committee hearing in a couple of weeks. The Senate has until February 21 to get bills out of committee.

Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray (R-Martinsville) (Photo: Eric Berman/WIBC)