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By QUINCY HODGES
Capital News Service
LANSING – Bias-motivated crimes are back up for discussion in the Legislature although a House-passed bill has stalled in the Senate.
Two Bills would change the language of the current ethnic intimidation law to be more specific with regard to victims’ characteristics and set tougher penalties for those convicted of violations.
The proposal would go beyond ethnic intimidation to include crimes motivated by gender, disability, religion, sexual orientation, color race, or veteran status.
The primary sponsor, Rep. Robert Jones, D-Kalamazoo, said, “ As an African American raised in the segregated South, I know the history not only in our country but from time to time the world where hate crimes do exist.”
Jones complained that the Senate Judiciary Committee hasn’t acted on the legislation. “They sit on stuff and bury if they don’t like the bill or like the person introducing the bill. Sometimes it’s both reasons.”
Jones said the current law covering intimidation isn’t adequate because it doesn’t address the bias factor.
“When there is crime committed against someone because of their background, it isn’t a crime against an individual but a crime against society,” he said.
But Gary Glenn, the president of the Midland-based American Family Association of Michigan, said the bill poses a serious threat to religious free speech rights.
Hate crime laws in Europe, Canada and the United States persecute Christian merely for speaking out against homosexual activists’ political agenda, said Glenn.
Daniel Levy, chief legal officer of the Department of Civil Rights, said the definition of ethnic intimidation under current state law is too broad.
He said some victims are targeted because of their background.
“These kind of crimes should not be tolerated in America,” Levy said.
Levy said judges should have the option of imposing harsher penalties, such as more time in prison, community service and education.
Sen. Hansen Clarke, D-Detroit, introduced the Senate version of the legislation.
Clarke, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, said the Republican chair is holding up the legislation.
The House passed the bill 82-18 earlier this year.
Jones said President Barack Obama’s recent signing of federal hate crime legislation might give the Legislature a sense of urgency to act on his anti-bias proposal.
© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.