St. Joseph County prosecutor, common council member weigh in on biased crime bill
NOTRE DAME, Ind. --- A bill that changes the way that biased crimes are prosecuted will be voted on in a state Senate committee hearing Monday morning.
On Sunday, the University of Notre Dame, city leaders, and the St. Joseph County prosecutor Ken Cotter provided information on how the bill could affect the area.
“The Notre Dame community has a really strong reputation for social justice,” said Andy Belilos, a junior at Notre Dame.
Belilos, who’s from Virginia, said he hopes to leave Indiana better than when he arrived as a freshman. He said people have a perception that Indiana is a ‘stuck in the past’ and a ‘conservative state.’
He and others, a part of Sunday night’s event at Notre Dame, expressed hope that on Monday the state would make progress by approving the bill. For it to pass through committee, the bill needs 26 votes.
“It actually gives me another arrow in my quiver,” Cotter said.
Cotter said he thinks the bill has a chance. The bill would provide judges the ability to upgrade a charge if they believe a crime was committed with bias and also would require police agencies to report biased crimes.
Senator Mike Bohacek, who co-authored the bill, said St. Joseph County has been underreporting biased crimes.
“Traditionally, we’ve always taught law enforcement that it doesn’t matter why a person committed a crime,” said Cotter. “So we ignored that and only focused on did a crime occur.”
Cotter said these mandates will help law enforcement better serve the community.
“Residents in my district have been impacted,” said Jo Broden, South Bend Common Councilmember for District 4.
In 2016, military veteran Jodi Henderson was killed in South Bend because of his sexual orientation. Broden said the bill sends a message that groups and individuals are valued.
“No one should live in fear in the state of Indiana,” said Broden. “Certainly nobody should be a victim of a hate crime.”
Senator Bohacek said the full vote on the Senate floor has to be done before next Tuesday or it dies.