Hate crime bills advance out of House committee
Bills to outlaw violence, intimidation, and property destruction based on a host of factors like sexual orientation, ethnicity, or age made it out of a Michigan House committee Tuesday.
Under the package, such behavior would be considered a hate crime. The current statute only refers to “ethnic intimidation” instead.
Representative Noah Arbit (D-West Bloomfield) said that's too outdated for the current moment.
“We have seen a very steep rise in hate crimes in the state of Michigan and across the country and we have done nothing. No corresponding legislative action to address it, and it’s time Michigan is moving from a national laggard to a national leader on this issue,” Arbit said.
Current law requires someone to intend to do harm because of race, color, religion, gender, or national origin to be charged. The package would allow someone to be charged regardless of if there’s another motivating factor as well.
It would also expand the list of protected classes to include age, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability status, age, and association with any of the previously mentioned groups.
During a second committee hearing on the bills, critics brought up free speech concerns with the legislation, as currently written.
William Wagner is a law professor emeritus at Western Michigan University. He said lawmakers need to make language in the bills more specific to avoid lawsuits.
“We’re talking millions of dollars for the state in attorney fees that they’ll have to pay when this is challenged, and it inevitably will be by one side or the other,” Wagner told the House Criminal Justice Committee Tuesday.
But Arbit maintains the legislation would hold up in court. He said he partnered with the Attorney General’s office to ensure it.
“The Supreme Court has upheld state hate crime laws, time and time again. These bills do not infringe on anyone’s constitutional right,” Arbit said.
The package would generally make hate crimes a felony, carrying a two-year maximum sentence and or a $5,000 fine. Penalties would worsen if the crime resulted in a bodily injury, is a repeat offense, or is committed with others.
Aside from hate crimes, the package would create a new crime for the destruction, damaging, or defacing of institutions like places of worship, schools, and cemeteries based on the factors covered in the hate crime bill.
The punishment for institutional destruction could range from a misdemeanor up to a 10-year felony.
The legislation could come to a vote before the full House of Representatives next week.