[Hpn] Lawmakers Explore Limits Of Hate Crime Laws
William Charles Tinker
Thu, 23 Mar 2006 18:09:35 -0500
Bill Would Protect Homeless From Hate Crimes
Lawmakers Explore Limits Of Hate Crime Laws
March 23, 2006
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Racial and ethnic minorities are protected under Maryland
hate crime laws, but what about homeless people? Or women? Or members of the
The Maryland Senate is debating the limits of the state's hate crime law,
which calls for extra penalties for violent crimes when it can be proven
that the perpetrators chose their victims because of their race, religion,
national origin or sexual orientation.
A bill before the Senate Thursday sparked a discussion of how far hate
crimes laws should go. Under the bill, homelessness would also be a criteria
for prosecution of a hate crime. The bill's sponsor -- Western Maryland Sen.
Alex Mooney, R-District 3 -- talked about homeless men who'd be beaten by
people who considered them "trash" or "bums."
The Senate debated who should be covered under hate crimes laws.
Baltimore County Sen. Delores Kelley, D-District 10, questioned whether it
would be easy to determine who is homeless. What about rich people who crash
with friends instead of getting their own home? she asked.
Montgomery County Sen. Sharon Grosfeld, D-District 18, suggested adding
gender to the hate crime list. That proposal was rejected.
"I don't think we ought to add it on the floor just because it seems like a
good idea," said Montgomery County Sen. Brian Frosh, D-District 16, who said
there ought to be more study before adding gender to the law.
Senators also rejected Grosfeld's next idea, to add handicapped people to
the law. Lawmakers have yet to consider separate bills that would add
military veterans or service members to the list.
Hate Crime Law's Evolution
Maryland's hate crime law has not been easy for lawmakers to tweak. Last
year, they voted to add sexual orientation to the list, responding at last
to years of lobbying by gay rights groups. The addition of the homeless to
the list faces uncertain prospects in the House.
A professor who studies hate crimes, Jack Levin, of Northeastern University,
said he wasn't aware of any other states that have made homeless people a
covered class under hate crimes laws. But he noted that some places have
added other distinctive classes, such as union members.
"I think that homeless people are vulnerable," said Levin, who is director
of the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict at Northeastern.
"But I don't think it's necessarily a good idea to include every vulnerable
group under the sun. It waters it down," he said.
His sentiment was echoed by Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality
Maryland, who said that adding too many groups minimizes the threat of
violence faced by minorities and gays and lesbians.
"It's insulting," Furmansky said.
Anne Arundel County Sen. John Astle, D-District 30, wondered aloud whether
lawmakers should keep adding groups of people to the hate crime law.
"Maybe we ought to just make murder a hate crime and ratchet up the penalty
for murder," he said.
The Senate must give the homelessness bill a final approval before it heads
to the House.
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