If the Indiana Senate's vote last week on a gutted bias crimes bill is any indication, the Hoosier state has a long way to go in becoming the business- and commerce-friendly state for which we so often tout ourselves.
Now it's up to the Indiana House to restore the bias crimes legislation back to the welcome mat it represents for new state residents, business and commerce.
The Indiana Senate voted 39-10 Thursday to approve legislation allowing judges to enhance a prison term when the underlying crime is motivated by bias.
It's a step in the right general direction.
But the measure the Senate passed falls woefully short of the original bill's intent.
The version the Senate passed controversially deleted a specific list of protected classes to which the bias crimes bill would apply.
The bill in its original form was strongly backed by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, Gov. Eric Holcomb and a wide-reaching coalition of both government and business leaders.
Supporters of the original language saw it as an important tool of welcoming to diverse residents and business interests, putting the Hoosier state on par with many other states that have adopted such laws.
State Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores, sponsored the original bill. He is right in asking the Indiana House to restore the bill's original language so it can attain the original intent.
"If I wanted the language to look like that, I would have put it in that way," Bohacek said. "But that's OK. The process works, and we're going to send it to the House, and the House is going to have to do something."
All nine Senate Democrats in attendance and state Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, chairman of the Public Policy Committee that shaped the comprehensive bias crime legislation, voted no on the revised proposal that was gutted Tuesday on a 33-16 Senate vote.
Indiana Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as he decried the changing of the original bill.
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter," Melton said. "Indiana is becoming more diverse. The nation is becoming more diverse. This is not going anywhere. This is going to come back in some shape or form."
Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar also chimed in.
“Unfortunately, what passed the Senate today does not meet the all-important criteria of a meaningful bias crimes law," Brinegar said in written statement Thursday. "The Indiana Chamber and its members will continue to work with all legislators to do just that. We agree with Gov. Holcomb that the current legislation does not even remove Indiana from the list of five states without a bias crimes statute."
At some point, Indiana senators who voted to gut the original bill should be considering who they represent.
Polls of Hoosier residents, business leaders and a strong coalition of bipartisan government leaders all back comprehensive bias crimes legislation.
We hope the Indiana House will fix the damage and pass a proper bill for the governor's signature.
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