- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 9, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - A renewed push to allow increased penalties in Indiana for people convicted of committing crimes because of prejudice or hatred was announced Tuesday by state senator after a similar proposal failed during this year’s legislative session.

The proposal from Democratic Sen. Greg Taylor of Indianapolis seeks to change Indiana’s standing as one of five states without laws specifically against crimes motivated by factors race, gender, religion and sexual orientation. Taylor said his proposal will included having police officers trained in recognizing, reacting and reporting hate crimes.

“My goal with this particular piece of legislation is two-fold,” Taylor said. “Hold bias motivated criminals accountable, while giving our law enforcement the tools and training they need to properly work through these kinds of investigations.”

An analysis by The Associated Press published in June found that 281 of Indiana’s 535 police agencies, or 52 percent, were among more than 2,700 agencies in the U.S. that didn’t file hate crime reports with the FBI between 2009 and 2014. The no-response rate for Indiana is three times the national no-response average of 17 percent - and the third-highest percentage in the U.S. of police departments that didn’t file the voluntary reports, behind only Louisiana and Mississippi.

Supporters of adding an Indiana hate crimes law say many such crimes go unreported because police don’t have a mechanism for reporting them. The other states without hate crime protections are Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina and Wyoming.

The Republican-dominated Indiana Senate earlier this year approved a bill allowing stiffer sentences for hate crimes, but House Courts and Criminal Code Committee didn’t take action on the proposal.

Republican Rep. Thomas Washburne of Evansville, the committee’s chairman, said he didn’t believe the motivation for a crime should change how a person is prosecuted and that that judges already can consider any circumstances during sentencing.

Some Republican lawmakers have announced plans to seek tougher penalties for attacks on police officers and their families with bills during the next legislative session that starts in January.

Republican Sen. Jim Merritt of Indianapolis, who is among those proposing the police officer bills, said he would keep an open mind about Taylor’s bill but that he’s opposed hate crimes legislation before as unnecessary because existing laws cover all residents.

Taylor said he believes his bill is a good partner to additional protections for police.

“There are people out there not just targeting police officers. They’re targeting people that look different … whose orientation is a little different,” Taylor said. “We need to address that issue as well.”

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