Gov. Holcomb Signs Indiana Hate Crime Bill Into Law

Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indiana business leaders progress on a new hate crime bill took a successful turn on April 3 when Holcomb signed Senate Bill 198 into law. The law, which Indiana hopes takes them off the list of five states without hate crime legislation, was passed by the Senate on April 2 and is effective July 1.

Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, who filed House Bill 1093 (which became Senate Bill 12), amended Senate Bill 198 to include language about hate crimes. SB 198 originally was a bill concerning drug offenses at penal institutions.

SB 12 was a hate crime bill that had originally had a list of specific characteristics, but was stripped of them in an amendment on Feb. 19. After being assigned to a House committee on March 4, no further action was taken place.

SB 198 allows a judge to consider a longer sentence if the crime was motivated by bias. However, instead of listing specific traits, the law refers to Indiana’s biased crimes reporting statute that mentions specific characteristics such as,

Color, creed, disability, national origin, race, religion, or sexual orientation of the injured person or of the owner or occupant of the affected property was associated with any other recognizable group or affiliation”.

SB 198 defines bias as a, “real or perceived characteristic, trait, belief, practice, association, or other attribute.” The bill, however, draws criticism for failing to include gender, gender identity, age or any specific group.

Gov. Holcomb and Republicans were happy with the bill and he issued a statement to the public on April 3 after signing the law saying,

Our goal was to achieve a comprehensive law that protects those who are the targets of bias crimes, and we have accomplished just that. We have made progress and taken a strong stand against targeted violence. I am confident our judges will increase punishment for those who commit crimes motivated by bias under this law.”

Many, including the worldwide organization Anti-Defamation League (ADL), oppose the law because they think it is weak due to the unspecific language. ADL maintains the list of states that have hate crime legislation, which Indiana wants off.

ADL and a number of worldwide civil right advocacy organizations sent a coalition letter to Gov. Holcomb on March 7 expressing their concern over SB 12 or any other legislation that is vague.

The organizations wrote in the letter,…to offer you facts around Indiana’s Senate Bill 12, and to urge you to consider the implications of potential enactment of an unacceptable vague and weak state bias crime law in Indiana.”

This law comes after pressure following another potential hate crime which occurred on the west side of Indianapolis on Feb. 16.

Dustin Passarelli, 33, has been charged with the murder of Mustafa Ayoubi, 32, after a road rage incident. Passarelli followed Ayoubi off the 38th Street exit on the highway after Ayoubi “flew up” from behind. He shot Ayoubi once in the shoulder and seven times in the back after a verbal altercation at Ayoubi’s apartment building. Since Indiana did not have hate crime legislation at the time, Passarelli’s investigation is being monitored by the FBI.

Indiana, when compared to other states in the midwest, was either ranked in the middle or at the bottom of national hate crime statistics.

In 2017, the FBI recorded that Indiana had the second fewest hate crimes reported by midwest states with 55, with Wisconsin recording the lowest at 46. The most hate crimes reported of midwestern states in 2017 was Kentucky with 378.

Indiana’s low number of hate crimes reported could be affected by having no prior legislation penalizing such crimes.

In 2018, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) tracked hate groups across the nation, state-by-state. They listed Indiana with 24 known hate groups, which ranks them in the middle compared to the other midwest states. Ohio had the most with 36 hate groups while Kentucky had the lowest at 13.

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