INDIANAPOLIS — Thirty national civil rights and religious organizations are warning Hoosier legislative leaders that Indiana will remain among the five states lacking a bias crime statute, if the General Assembly does not include a list of protected classes in Senate Bill 12.
In a letter sent Thursday, the organizations said the Senate-approved bias crime proposal awaiting action by the House is unacceptably "vague and weak," because it does not contain a comprehensive list of "specific and clear" enumerated victim characteristics.
The groups declare that without such a list in the legislation they will continue including Indiana on their lists of states, alongside Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina and Wyoming, that do not more harshly punish crimes motivated by hate or bias.
"Furthermore, we have serious concerns that an over-generalized bill, such as Senate Bill 12 is currently drafted, could actually cause harm by being used to further marginalize communities of color and minority religious communities, the exact opposite of the bill's original intent," they write.
Groups signing the letter include the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, Arab American Institute, Hindu American Foundation, Human Rights Campaign, Interfaith Alliance, Japanese American Citizens League, Matthew Shepard Foundation, Muslim Advocates, NAACP, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Disability Rights Network, People for the American Way, Sikh Coalition and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb has called on Hoosiers to pressure the Republican-controlled General Assembly to restore the protected classes list that last month was deleted from the bias crime legislation by the Senate.
Under the original proposal, a judge could count as an aggravating factor — to sentence a convicted criminal to more than the advisory prison term — a crime that's perpetrated against an individual or group based on their actual or perceived race, religion, color, sex, gender identity, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation or age.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, has said he's not inclined to restore that language, even though he is hoping to get Indiana off the list of states lacking a bias crime law.
"We're trying to find the best course to ensure that we do come off the list," Bosma said. "Not everyone agrees on the approach on that; not everyone agrees that we need to come off the list, for that matter. But that's my goal."
The legislation has been assigned to the Courts and Criminal Code Committee.