Goshen students, community upset after hate crime bill is gutted

NOW: Goshen students, community upset after hate crime bill is gutted

GOSHEN, Ind. -- Local students say they’re not just disappointed, but angry after seeing a hate crime bill stripped of what they say is the most important language.

The Indiana State Senate made changes to Senate Bill 12 on Tuesday. The changes passed with a 33-16 vote. Only two representatives from Michiana voted against those changes.   

“I was pretty mad. I was really, really mad. I was like how? Like in a way they’re just playing around with us,” said Lizeth Ochoa, a student at Goshen College.

Ochoa was one of six students who went to the statehouse to speak in favor of the original bill. Now those students say they don’t feel their voices were heard.

Just one day after giving their testimonies for why Indiana needs hate crime legislation, massive changes were made to the bill. Those changes include multiple pages being deleted, including a page listing out specific protected characteristics, like race, religion, gender identity and sexual orientation.

“Those are the people who are being targeted. Having a list will make them feel more protected and more welcomed,” said Sandra Cortez, one of the students who went to the capitol. She says she feels like taking away the list means taking away those peoples’ voices.

“Unless there’s specified protections based on your age or race or ethnicity or religion or national origin, there isn’t going to be meaningful enforcement of those laws and judges will not be able to take those into consideration,” said Richard Aguirre, the community impact coordinator at Goshen College, who took the students to the statehouse.

Supporters of the changes have said taking out the list just creates broader legislation that applies to more people. But Indiana State Senator David Niezgodski, who represents the 10th district including South Bend and Mishawaka, says the former version was inclusive.

“There was no one that didn’t fall under some of those subsections. That did cover every Hoosier,” said Niezgodski.

Neizgodski voted against the changes, saying gutting the bill just moved Indiana backward.

“This right now is a very bad signal to businesses and people wanting to come to Indiana,” he said.

Aguirre agrees that without some type of hate crime legislation, Indiana could see an economic impact.

“Our colleges want to recruit students from all over the country and all over the world and we need to assure them that when they come here they’ll be safe and they’ll feel welcome,” he said.

He joins the students in feeling frustrated, and feeling like their voices were just ignored.

“It’s frustrating as a Hoosier who wants progressive legislation who wants accountability and policy that can help make Indiana safe for everyone, to not have this piece of legislation,” said Gabe Miller, a student at Goshen College.

The State Senate will have a third reading of the bill Thursday.

Governor Eric Holcomb has expressed he’s not happy with the current form of the bill, but has not yet said what he’ll do if the gutted version is the final version.  

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