JCRC Statement on the Removal of Protected Classes and Expected Passage of Senate Bill 12 – Bias Crimes

The Jewish Community Relations Council, which advocates on behalf of organized Jewish communities throughout Indiana, expresses our extreme disappointment that the Indiana Senate voted to strip the bias crimes bill (Senate Bill 12) of the language that specifies what constitutes a bias crime.  Now, the bill, which is expected to pass the full Senate today, only adds two words – “including bias” – to the sentencing section of our state’s criminal code.  This is not enough.  This is not what 74% of Hoosiers want, based on a recent statewide survey.  This is not what the leaders of Indiana’s business, sports, non-profit, civic, law enforcement, local government, and institutions of higher education have advocated for.  This is not what the breadth of faith, minority, and ethnic communities have been working toward over the past five years.

After hearing three hours of public testimony in overwhelming support of a bill that enumerated the characteristics a judge could consider, the Senate Public Policy Committee passed Senate Bill 12 by a vote of 9-1, sending a resounding message that this could – and should – be the year Indiana comes off the shameful list of 5 states that lack a bias crimes statute.  Senate Bill 12 made clear that our state would no longer tolerate crimes committed because of a person’s race, religion, national origin, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. 

That optimism was decimated just 24 hours later when 33 members of the Indiana Senate voted in favor of Senator Aaron Freeman’s (R-Indianapolis) amendment to gut the bill.  Gone is the language that gives specific direction to judges on what should be considered a bias crime; gone are the training requirements for law enforcement officers on how to recognize and react to bias crimes; gone is the needed update to our outdated bias crime reporting requirements.  With all of this language removed, gone are all aspects of the bill that would have made the law effective; gone is the chance that Indiana would be removed from the list of 5 states without a statute; and gone is the moment when targeted communities felt they would finally be seen, and have some semblance of protection. 

While supporters of the stripped down language argue it provides broader protection by not limiting “bias” to specific categories, they are well aware that this is not the case.  At least one state court has struck down an un-enumerated bias crime law as unconstitutional.  Prosecutors and judges in Utah, another state with an un-enumerated law, report complete frustration by the lack of clear and specific direction as to which types of crimes are most detrimental to society, and how to apply the law.  As amended, Senate Bill 12 will leave too much ambiguity for the statute to have the intended and desired effect.  It will be a law in name only.  This was recognized by the Senate Public Policy Committee, Governor Holcomb, and the many other legislators and community leaders who opposed these amendments.

The Jewish community is frustrated and feels unheard.  In recent years, Jewish synagogues, schools, JCCs, and cemeteries in Indiana have been threatened, vandalized, and desecrated.  Jewish Hoosiers are being targeted because of our religion, because we are Jews.  Passing a real bias crimes bill is a critical way the State of Indiana acknowledges this important fact.  At the exact moment when our community is experiencing the greatest increase in antisemitic incidents in two generations, we need our legislators to heed our calls.  

The Indiana Jewish community established the JCRC in 1942, while the Holocaust was unfolding in Europe.  The core of JCRC’s mission is to safeguard Jews by combatting antisemitism and working in coalition with other groups that fight discrimination and bigotry through relationship-building and education.  For over 40 years, the JCRC has maintained a respected presence in the Indiana State House, putting into action the Jewish values to pursue justice, love your neighbor, and not stand idly by.   

The Jewish community thanks the senators who voted “no” on Tuesday’s amendment, and we continue to applaud Senators Alting (R- West Lafayette), Bohacek (R-Michigan City), and Taylor (D-Indianapolis) as well as Governor Holcomb, for their steadfast leadership on this issue.  We urge the remainder of our state’s legislators to not stand idly by while Hoosiers are being targeted.  There is still time during this legislative session to stand up and lead by modeling what it means to pursue justice and love your neighbor.  Please do the right thing and lead our state forward by making Senate Bill 12 the effective bias crimes statute that Hoosiers support and need.