Hate crime legislation becomes an issue in District 59 race

Hate-crimes legislation is emerging as a campaign issue between the Republican and Democratic party candidates running for District 59 state representative.

While Democrat Bob Pitman is calling for such legislation to be revived and passed in the 2017 General Assembly, incumbent Republican Milo Smith questions whether such measures are necessary.

A bill creating the state’s first hate-crime law was approved 34-16 in the Indiana Senate in February. However, the bill died during the session when the Indiana House failed to take action on it.

According to the Indiana State Police, 45 to 55 incidents per year have occurred since 2011 that would qualify as hate crimes under the legislation.

The Senate bill would have allowed tougher sentences by taking into account a victim’s “perceived or actual race, religion, color, sex, gender identity, disability, national origin, ancestry or sexual orientation.”

But judges in Indiana already have the authority to impose a longer sentence on a defendant if they determine hate was involved in the commission of a felony crime, Smith said.

Other Republicans have expressed concerns that such laws would help elevate one type of crime over others that could be equally brutal.

Nevertheless, supporters such as Pitman argue that hate crimes are premeditated and meant to intimidate entire communities, so courts need to be able to hand down harsher punishments.

For more on this story, see Saturday’s Republic.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.