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Indiana lawmakers unlikely to revive bias crimes proposal

House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, wants the Republican-controlled General Assembly this year to enact a sentencing enhancement for bias-motivated crimes.

INDIANAPOLIS — Despite the recent spate of threats to Jewish institutions in Indiana and across the country, Hoosier lawmakers are unlikely to revive a bias crimes sentencing enhancement that last month failed to advance out of the Senate.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said Thursday that he personally supported Senate Bill 439, which would have permitted crimes motivated by bias toward a victim's actual or perceived race, religion, color, sex, gender identity, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation or police affiliation to count as an aggravating factor when a judge issues a criminal sentence.

But Bosma said because the proposal could not garner enough votes to pass the Republican-controlled Senate, he does not believe its provisions should be inserted in Senate-approved legislation now being considered by the Republican-controlled House.

"I don't know that without a hearing, without pre-planning and without a full opportunity for the bill to be aired here, that it's something to stick in late in the second half of the session," Bosma said.

A coalition of minority groups recently called on state lawmakers to find some way to enact a bias crimes statute during the five weeks remaining in the annual legislative session.

"At a time of rising anti-Semitism in Indiana and across the country, my community is feeling anxiety like no time in recent memory," said David Sklar, of the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council.

He said Indiana should not remain one of just five states in the country that does not have a hate crimes law on the books.

House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, insisted it's entirely possible to still revive the bias crimes proposal, and promised that members of his caucus will continue seeking opportunities to do so.

"We've looked at incidents around the country. We have seen data that is showing an increase in this type of criminal activity," Pelath said. "We can't afford to wait anymore."

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Statehouse Bureau Chief

Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.