INDIANAPOLIS — National civil rights leaders sent a letter Thursday to Gov. Eric Holcomb and legislative leaders saying that the General Assembly’s current bias crimes legislation won’t remove Indiana from a list of states without a law.

As the current bill has no list of characteristics often subject to bias, Holcomb has suggested that federal language be used by the state.

However, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said Thursday he thinks the language should be developed by state legislators, not federal. 

The 30 civil rights activists, including including the Anti-Defamation League, the Human Rights Campaign, the NAACP and the Southern Poverty Law Center, said that legislation must include a specific,comprehensive list of characteristics, such as race, gender and sexual orientation, to get Indiana off the list of five states without a bias crimes law.

"Some opponents of an Indiana bias crime law continue to erroneously argue that specifying categories in legislation will lend ‘special statuses’ to minorities. This notion is simply false," the letter states. "Inclusive hate crime statutes are designed to cover everyone; anyone intentionally targeted because of their personal characteristics would be protected in a hate crime statute which includes enumerated categories."

The letter was released by Indiana Forward, which is pushing for a list of characteristics that could provoke bias in a crime.

Senate Bill 12 was stripped of a list in the Indiana Senate. The Senate voted 39-10 to send the amended bill to the House, where it has been assigned to the Courts and Criminal Code Committee.

After the Senate passed the bill, Holcomb, who is seeking a comprehensive bill, suggested that federal descriptions be implemented in state language. The list should be used by judges in the sentencing phase of a criminal case, not in the initial reporting of the crime, Holcomb said. 

He said in a statement, “Under federal law, criminal acts committed because of a person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or because the person was engaged in a federally protected activity (voting, jury service, etc.) can be charged as hate crimes. This applies right now in the State of Indiana, and what I would suggest is that we take that exact language.”

Bosma said Thursday he would rather have the state be in charge of the language.

"I don’t know that we want to reference federal law," Bosma said. "There is a state definition of a bias crime now. If there was going to be any type of reference, I would presume it would likely be to state law rather than federal. I know he’s (Holcomb) shopping options, which is good."

As of 2000, the state has defined a bias crime as "an offense in which the person who committed the offense knowingly or intentionally: (a) selected the person who was injured; or (b) damaged or otherwise affected property by the offense because of the color, creed, disability, national origin, race, religion, or sexual orientation of the injured person or of the owner or occupant of the affected property was associated with any other recognizable group or affiliation."

Earlier this week, the 100-company Indiana Technology and Innovation Association, which formed in November, urged a comprehensive list for the bill.

© 2019 Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.