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(INDIANAPOLIS) – One of the toughest battles in the upcoming legislative session could be over an issue where leaders in both parties appear to agree.

A hate-crimes law will be one of Governor Holcomb’s legislative priorities, and Senate Majority Leader Mark Messmer (R-Jasper) says “the need is clear.” Indiana is one of just five states without a hate crimes law, and Messmer says other states have begun using that against Indiana in competing for business expansions.

But Messmer and House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) caution while a carefully written bill can pass both chambers, supporters could sink it if they push too far. Bosma says he’d personally support a bill like the one which has been introduced in the Senate the last three years, allowing judges to impose longer sentences for crimes targeting specific groups. But he and Messmer say a bill creating a separate criminal charge would be a different story. And Bosma warns discussions in past sessions have bogged down over including gender identity alongside race, religion and sexual orientation. He says there are strong feelings on both sides, and warns supporters could end up with nothing if they demand “the whole enchilada” all at once.

10 Indiana cities, State Police, Vigo County, and the Purdue University police keep track of hate crimes. The F-B-I says those departments reported 55 hate crimes in Indiana last year. More than half were racial, with none based on gender identity.

Bosma, Messmer, House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) and Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) outlined their expectations for the session at the Indiana Chamber’s annual preview luncheon. Both parties say school safety and raising teacher pay are on their priority list for the upcoming session. Local school boards set their own budgets, including the pay scale — legislators just decide how much money they have to work with. Bosma says he’s been talking with interest groups about how to steer more of that money to teachers. He says he’ll reveal some of the details at the legislature’s ceremonial opening on Tuesday, with more specifics to follow.l be announcing a plan to steer more of that money to teachers:

There’s agreement but more uncertainty among legislative leaders on a hate crime bill. Bosma says he’d support a bill similar to the one which stalled in the Senate the last two years, and believes it would pass both chambers. But he calls the issue delicate, and warns a bill could disintegrate if the public debate turns heated or if supporters insist on a broader bill.

Bosma says House Republicans want to revisit efforts to streamline job training, and Messmer says the Senate will be working on expanded rural broadband. GiaQuinta says Democrats will call for expanding state-funded preschool statewide. Bosma says he supports the pre-K program, but warns it’s going to be a tight budget year. He says three-quarters of the expected new money in the budget will be earmarked for the Department of Child Services as it struggles to handle a steadily growing caseload.

After Tuesday’s one-day session, the four-month session gets underway in earnest in January.

Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis, back to camera) meeting with Democrats on the House floor near the end of the 2918 legislative session (Photo: Eric Berman/WIBC)