Malicious harassment renamed hate crime in proposed state legislation

OLYMPIA — Newly named hate crime offenses would let courts infer the offense was due to the perception of the victim’s association with a protected class, unless evidence suggests otherwise.

The proposed legislation now under consideration would also create a multidisciplinary Hate Crime Advisory Working Group under the attorney general.

The group would work to raise awareness of hate crimes and recommend best practices for prevention, increasing reporting and identification of such crimes, victim support and for strengthening law enforcement and prosecution of such offenses.

The state Senate Law and Justice Committee heard public testimony last week on Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1732, which passed on a 85-12 vote in the state House on March 7.

Sen. Jesse Salomon, D-Shoreline, spoke through tears, recounting the armed security that he encountered when taking his son to synagogue last week, while asking a question of a panel testifying.

Salomon sponsored the similar Senate Bill 5850 that did not make it out of the rules committee.

Rep. Javier Valdez, D-Seattle is the prime sponsor of the bill.

“Sadly, our state has seen, since 2017, an increase of over 42 percent in the number of hate crimes that have been reported,” said Valdez.

The bill also raises the civil liability for hate crimes offenses from $10,000 to $100,000.

Nancy Greer, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, which in 2006 was the target of a hate crime after a gunman killed and injured employees in its office, testified in support of the bill.

Greer said hate crimes must be treated with the “utmost seriousness,” including significant civil penalties.

“Awarding a fine of up to $100,000, when a perpetrator has means, sends a powerful message as to the seriousness with which hate crimes are taken in our state,” said Greer.

Monisha Harrell, board chair for Equal Rights Washington, testified in support of the bill.

Washington was the No. 2 state in the nation in the reporting of hate crimes in 2017, said Harrell.

“There has been an increase in the severity of hate crimes, so while we may hear stories that maybe this is blown out of proportion, what we are also seeing with these hate crimes is not only is there an increase in number but an increase in severity,” said Harrell.

Emilia Jones from the attorney general’s office spoke in support of the bill saying her office is “ready and willing” to take on the responsibility of the workgroup.

The bill was passed to the Rules Committee for a second reading last Friday.

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This story is part of a series of news reports from the Washington state Legislature provided through a reporting internship sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation.

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