Unabashedly liberal. Quick to point out what he views as common sense, nonsensical or hypocritical. And unperturbed by criticism if he’s convinced that he’s on the right side.
That’s a quick take on finance and real estate lawyer Greg Taylor, in his fourth term as a state senator representing District 33, a pocket of inner suburbs on the Near Northwestside of Indianapolis. The district, which runs from the southern reaches of Meridian Kessler to the outskirts of Eagle Creek, is one of the Senate’s most racially and economically diverse. It is also one of the Senate’s safest seats for Democrats; Republicans last contested it in 2000.
After the general election in 2020 – and yet another shellacking that left Democrats still badly outnumbered by Republican supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly – Taylor became minority leader, the top Democratic position in the Senate, replacing the more low-key Tim Lanane of Anderson; Taylor became first Black legislator ever to lead a caucus in the Indiana General Assembly.
Taylor’s passion for his causes has been matched only by his frustration in being so often on the losing side. Due to their supermajorities – which grew by four in the House but shrank by one in the Senate in 2020 — Republicans have the quorums to pass bills and conduct other legislative business entirely on their own.
Perhaps most frustrating to Taylor has been his years-long effort to pass hate crimes legislation which would increase penalties for crimes targeting specific marginalized groups. Between 2014 and 2018, Taylor and Gregory Porter, a Democrat representing a diverse Indianapolis district in the House, introduced bill after bill, sometimes joined by few Republican colleagues, to no avail. Each bill spelled out the groups who could be the target of a hate crime due to “race, color, creed, disability, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity.” The bill also included language to provide training and tools for police so they could better identify hate crimes and report it.
In 2019 a hate crime bill was seriously considered, and proponents were hopeful that it would become law until Republican senators removed specific mention of marginalized groups from the bill. Gov. Eric Holcomb – who had pushed for the specific mention in his efforts to get Indiana off the short list of states without a hate crimes law —- nonetheless signed it.
Taylor and other Democrats were livid.
“You don’t have to agree with how somebody lives to respect their ability to live freely and responsibly in this state,” said Taylor in an interview with the Lafayette Journal and Courier in February 2019. “But when you take that ability away knowing that they have been targeted, it is a shame, and this is a disaster for the state of Indiana.”
Taylor has managed to get bills passed during his tenure, employing the art of bipartisanship, a required skill for all General Assembly Democrats. Among recent legislation that he was instrumental in passing and having signed into law: enhanced newborn screenings for health disorders; strengthened reporting and monitoring in hiring women, minority and veteran-owned firms for government contracts, and more stringent monitoring of pharmacy benefit managers to limit rising prescription costs and spending.
Most often, Taylor speaks out passionately about issues when they are related to social justice. In addition to his work on various task forces and committees aimed at increasing diversity, Taylor works with other members of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus. After George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police in 2020, the caucus called on the governor to ban police chokeholds and put in place other reforms.
One of the few pleasures that a member of a minority party can relish when it holds so little power is vindication after the fact. Such was the case for Taylor in 2020 after a federal judge blocked Indiana’s new panhandling law, which would ban the practice within a 50 feet distance of monuments, financial institutions and parking meters.
“Throughout the session, I was a strong advocate against the panhandling bill,” Taylor said in a statement released after the court ruling. “The last thing we should be doing is implementing laws that intentionally seek to harm our most vulnerable Hoosiers. There are a number of situations that could lead to someone asking for assistance—and their freedom of speech protects that right, no matter what their circumstances are. It’s disappointing that this proposal even made it out of the legislature, but it’s a relief that it has been struck down.”
Taylor expressed similar relief after Holcomb vetoed a Republican-backed landlord rights bill also passed in 2020.
“Hoosiers in my community, and in communities across the state, would have had city ordinances protecting tenants from bad-acting landlords invalidated if SEA 148 had been approved,” he said. “It’s even more imperative now that we are protecting Hoosiers from wrongful treatment and evictions as we work to combat the coronavirus pandemic.” —Kathleen Schuckel