Legislative Update: Keep Their Heads Ringin’

We had to bring out the big guns – the one-and-only D-R-E – to headline this week’s update.  We’re at a turning point, a gut check about what we mean when we say ‘Hoosier values.’  It’s time to bring the noise.

We all know that Indiana is one of just five states without protections for victims of bias-motivated crimes.  For too long, we’ve lived with the perception that Indiana lacks the courage to confront bigotry, the toughness to punish acts of hate, or the political backbone to stand up to ideological pressure groups.

For every legislator who claims to support a competitive business climate, it’s time to choose leadership over lip service and work to restore the specifics of SB12.

We’d like to turn over the bulk of this update to the overwhelming chorus of voices across Indiana and beyond that are speaking up for a bias crimes law that actually works to protect Hoosiers.  We know the message is loud and clear, but some lawmakers still have their heads stuck in the limestone.

Weak bill draws strong response:
Let’s start with the easiest argument to dismiss – that a meaningless bill might somehow fool the right people into moving Indiana off the list of states that look the other way when their citizens are targeted on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.  But here’s the problem: There are criminal and social justice experts who are really passionate about this issue…and they can google stuff  that’s happening at the Statehouse.

So a number of national groups weighed in this week to confirm what we’ve been saying all along: Passing a law without specifics wouldn’t move Indiana into the column of states that punish bias crimes and welcome talent.

A letter to this effect was co-signed by the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, Arab American Institute, Hindu American Foundation, Human Rights Campaign, Interfaith Alliance, Japanese American Citizens League, Matthew Shepard Foundation, Muslim Advocates, NAACP, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Disability Rights Network, People for the American Way, Sikh Coalition and the Southern Poverty Law Center. It read in part:

We unanimously agree that, in 2019, to be taken off any list we maintain and promote of states without a hate crime law, a bill must be specific, clear, and include a comprehensive list of enumerated characteristics. Furthermore, we have serious concerns that an over-generalized bill, such as Senate Bill 12 is currently drafted, could actually cause harm by being used to further marginalize communities of color and minority religious communities, the exact opposite of the bill’s original intent. (Get the full letter.)

Final Four?
Thursday evening, the Georgia House passed a bias crimes bill with enumerated specifics with a strong bipartisan majority.  If the momentum behind this measure holds up and Georgia enacts an enforceable, effective law, Indiana would be one of four states with no bias crime protections – unless we stop the March Madness.

Back Home Again:
We know that citing all of these out-of-state opinions and developments can backfire into a talking point for opponents – “We’re Hoosiers! We don’t need outsiders telling us our business!” (Though if we want to attracttheirbusiness, we really should pay attention.)

So here’s a sampling of arguments for a clear, comprehensive bias crimes law – written for Hoosiers, by Hoosiers – keeping in mind that each commentary represents the strong majority of voters who support action in recent public opinion polls:

In Other Action:
Otherwise, it was a fairly quiet week around the Statehouse, as Senate Appropriations began budget hearings (HB1001) and other committees started to settle into their second-half schedules.  A few bills of note that were heard this week:

  • SB109 (Food and Beverage Tax and Innkeeper Tax) deals with food/beverage and innkeeper’s taxes in several areas – including Greenwood, Danville and Whitestown – but the committee held it (the same language is also incorporated intoHB1402);
  • SB4 (Water and Wastewater Utilities and Runoff) deals with a number of issues around regional watershed sustainability – it flowed through committee unanimously;
  • SB191 (Historic Preservation and Rehabilitation) also passed unanimously, adding nonprofits to the list of entities able to receive historic property designation and funding;
  • HB1009 Teacher Residency Grant Pilot Program) creates a funding mechanism for a teacher residency program to support teacher effectiveness, recruitment and retention – it was held for now;
  • HB1005 (State Superintendent of Public Instruction) changes the date for gubernatorial appointment of a new Secretary of Education (replacing the elected superintendent of public instruction) to 2021 – this common-sense reform giving executive accountability over administrative duties was held amid debate over qualifications (and how prescriptive the legislation should be) for the Secretary position.

And for even more up-to-the-minute news on #INLegis, follow the Business Advocacy team on Twitter:

Mark Fisher - @FisherIndy
Tim Brown - @TimJBrownLaw
Taylor Hughes - @STaylorHughes

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