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Indiana Senate Advances Hate-Crimes Bill

The Indiana Senate

The legislation, which would impose harsher penalties for crimes spurred by prejudice, will soon be debated by the Indiana House of Representatives.

The Indiana Senate has passed hate-crimes legislation.

Senate Bill 220, which would require harsher punishments for those who commit crimes rooted in prejudice, will be debated in the state's House of Representatives this week, repors The Indianapolis Star.

"Our job is to protect those who need to be protected," said Rep. Randy Truitt, a sponsor of the bill.

If passed, the legislation would give judges the choice to impose harsher sentences when factors like gender, race, disability, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity are motivators in law-breaking.

Indiana is one of five U.S. states that still do not have some form of hate-crimes law, different incarnations of which have been debated by state lawmakers for the past 15 years.

The bill's long-awaited approval comes in the wake of another's defeat: SB 344, which was killed last Tuesday in the Senate. Although flawed, the latter bill would have banned discrimination against LGBT people statewide.

It is unclear if SB 344's death and the ongoing debate over LGBT rights in Indiana will factor in the House debates. The state unleashed a storm of controversy in 2015 with the passage of a so-called religious freedom act, which gave business owners the option to refuse goods and services to LGBT people.

Sen. Greg Taylor, a coauthor of SB 344, said the hate-crimes bill may play a role in restoring Indiana's reputation as a welcoming place for diverse people and businesses. But he stressed that though it will impose penalties for targeted attacks, it should not be confused with LGBT rights legislation.

"We call it 'Hoosier Hospitality,' yet our laws are inconsistent with that," he said.

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