- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 1, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - An Islamic mosque in Indiana was spray-painted with racial slurs, bringing into question state lawmakers’ decision just over a week earlier to toss a bill that would have increased penalties for people who committed such hate crimes.

The incident was enough for one group to decide to put pressure back on lawmakers for the measure. David Sklar, a lobbyist for the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council, said he plans to speak with lawmakers to possibly resurrect the proposal before the end of the legislative session on March 10.

But despite the renewed effort, Sen. Susan Glick said there likely won’t be any more action taken by the time the session ends. The LaGrange Republican who authored the legislation in the Senate said she has explored ways to bring the issue back to the table.

“We tried,” Glick said. “But there’s always room for this bill to come back again next year.”

Similar hate crime legislation has failed to pass the Indiana House.

Without a formal hate crime law on the books, Indiana will secure its place as one of only five states with no hate crime protections for another year. That could mean another 40-plus potential hate crime cases would go unnoticed in Indiana courts if annual trends, based on state police data, continue.

In the case of the Plainfield mosque incident, the people who did the spray-painting might face vandalism charges if caught. But under the hate crimes measure that failed, the presiding judge would be able to take racism into account in order to increase any penalties.

Sen. Gregory Taylor also said he is frustrated that hate crime legislation has failed repeatedly despite the prevalence of crimes motivated by prejudice and hatred.

“If we don’t address the issue, I’m afraid that we’re going to be in a reactionary position rather than being proactive,” said the Indianapolis Democrat who has proposed previous hate crime bills. “We’re going to be waiting for a massacre to happen before we do anything.”

Supporters of hate crime laws have said having such a law would show that the state takes discrimination seriously, especially after the negative attention Indiana has received in the last few years due to attempts to create religious objection protections that some say sanctioned discrimination.

Rep. Thomas Washburne, an Evansville Republican and House Criminal Code Committee chairman who shelved the Senate hate crime bill, said crimes should not be distinguished from each other because of a victim’s characteristics. He added that judges already can consider any circumstances during sentencing.

The Southern Poverty Law Center says 15 hate groups currently operate in Indiana. The center defines the groups as those that “attack or malign an entire class of people.”

Indiana has a long history of being a hub for the Ku Klux Klan. Edward Jackson, the state’s 32nd governor who took office in 1925, was a member of the white supremacist group.

“Yet we are told - again - that we do not need hate crime legislation in Indiana,” Democratic Rep. Gregory Porter of Indianapolis said in a statement. “We are told that such laws have no point.”

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Follow Aric Chokey on Twitter at https://twitter.com/aric_chokey

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