Legislature(2003 - 2004)
03/23/2004 03:40 PM STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 246-HATE CRIMES/DISCRIMINATION/TOLERANCE PROG CHAIR GARY STEVENS announced SB 246 to be up for consideration. He recognized Senator Lincoln. SENATOR GEORGIANNA LINCOLN, sponsor, said she would give an overview rather than reading the sponsor statement. She stated: Over the years this committee and others certainly have read and heard news stories about the hate crimes that have been committed throughout our state. The most recent one was November 2003 regarding a paintball attack on a young woman in Anchorage. There are many more hate bias motivated crimes that take place that go unreported. Anchorage reported 67 bias hate motivated incidents with only 17 arrests between 1998 and 2002 when they began keeping records of hate motivated incidents. Aggravated assaults against Alaska Natives were the highest reported crime during that time. Juneau Douglas High School is currently reviewing recent racial incidents that have occurred within the school. A hate crime is any criminal offense committed against a person or property, which is motivated in whole or in part by the offenders' biases against race, religion, ethnic, national origin group, or sexual orientation. SB 264 was drafted according to model legislation by the Anti Defamation League that will be speaking from Washington D.C. Currently 46 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws similar to the Anti Defamation League model. TAPE 04-21, SIDE B 5:15 pm The current penalty enhancement statute does not apply to anyone found guilty of a misdemeanor or most first time felony offenders. Those crimes are presently excluded from enhancement and that's really a critical part of the bill. Those crimes are now included in this bill. As an example, a person committing a class B misdemeanor would be elevated to face a class A misdemeanor charge if their actions are determined to be motivated by prejudice bias or hate. If the crime committed is a class A misdemeanor, it would be elevated to a class c felony and so on. In the case of the paintball attack in 2001, which was videotaped, one young man was charged with seven counts of a class A misdemeanor assault. Had this bill been enacted, that individual would have been charged with a class C felony. It's important to note that the majority of hate crimes reported in Alaska are assault, intimidation, and harassment and would therefore be misdemeanors. Thus the majority of hate crimes are totally outside the scope of aggravating factors already in law. Why is there a whole new crime of motivation? It serves merely as a sentence enhancement and enhancements are the safest, most constitutional hate crime laws that we've got. This bill also adds gender to its hate crime legislation. The inclusion of gender is important because it sends a message that gender based crimes also will not be tolerated. Legislators throughout the country have realized that it is difficult to distinguish the race based and religion based hate crimes from gender-based crimes. What sets the hate crimes apart from other acts of violence is the psychological damage that they leave behind. The American Psychological Association determined that victims of hate crimes suffer the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder and that there are social and economic ramifications to this type of crime as well. Of all racial groups in Alaska, Alaska Natives suffer the highest rate of victimization. We really have to educate those around us, those that we work with, our young people, that we must condemn those crimes against humanity. If there's a way that we can prevent hatred, prevent bias because of different races and because of different religions then we ought to do that. CHAIR GARY STEVENS apologized for the lateness of the hour and noted that he and Senator Stedman had a meeting to attend in just ten minutes. There were a number of people who wanted to testify, but there wasn't time to hear from everyone. The bill would be heard in the Judiciary Committee next and everyone that wasn't able to testify would have an opportunity to speak at that time. SENATOR BERT STEDMAN remarked that this is a society wide problem. He noted that the analysis on hate crimes between 1998 to 2002 shows there were 15 incidents with Blacks, 15 incidents with Alaska Natives 3 concerning Whites, two Islamic, and three Jewish. MIKE LEBERMAN, Washington Counsel for the Anti Defamation League, testified via teleconference in support of SB 246. Hate crime statutes are very important and they compliment bias education work. It's best to prevent these crimes before they're committed but once they do occur, the law shapes attitudes and to have a broad inclusive statute in Alaska would be important. This would add sexual orientation, which is important and for the first time the important qualifier, "actual or perceived" would be put into Alaska law. These statutes are unquestionably constitutional and were ratified by the United States Supreme Court in 1993. He couldn't speak to the sentencing scheme because different states have different penalty structures. However, they do support the concept and approach wholeheartedly. NICK KOTAVICH, Tlingit Haida Youth Leadership Team representative, spoke in support of SB 246. He is the leader of Undoing Racism, which is comprised of the JDHS Student Council and Tlingit Haida Youth Leadership Team. He said: This bill, if pushed, will send a message to those who have harassed Natives to the point of physical violence that it will no longer be tolerated. A boy at my school continually harassed me to the point of physical violence because I was Native. After beating me up, he did it to at least three other Natives. If this bill is passed, you as Senators will be imposing consequences that will prevent these racial behaviors from continuing and make our state a safer place for all youths. NATALIE LANDRITH, staff attorney with the Native American Rights Fund in Anchorage, spoke via teleconference in strong support of SB 246. She said she would focus on three specific legal aspects of the bill. · WHY A SPECIAL LAW FOR HATE CRIMES: Each hate crime has many victims and the aim is to terrorize a victim simply because they are a member of a group. The result is that each member of the group is a victim. The U.S. Department of Justice's policy guide to hate crimes characterizes them as a virus that quickly spreads feelings of terror and loathing across an entire community. The psychological impact on that group is far, wide, and lasting. They send a powerful message to the group that they aren't wanted or welcome. · HOW BIG IS THIS PROBLEM: They don't know. Eighty-five percent of the jurisdictions across the country don't report any hate crime activity so Alaska is a small minority that has a measurable hate crime problem. They do know that Natives are the most likely to be affected by hate crimes. · DON'T HATE CRIME LAWS CONFLICT WITH FREE SPEECH: That has been covered in previous testimony, but she wanted to add that SB 246 does not conflict. It fits squarely within the floor and ceiling set by the U.S. Supreme Court. SB 246 would send a message that Alaska isn't willing to tolerate the victimization of Natives and others. "It sends a message to the targets of hate crimes that they are welcome and the law will protect them. It expresses a collective belief that Alaska is stronger when we protect all of our citizens." DON BREMMER thanked the committee for putting him on the roster considering the lateness of the hour but he said, it's really the lateness of getting this kind of legislation passed that the committee should be discussing. At some point, Natives will get tired of waiting patiently for such legislation. He made the point that this bill addresses the end result of what minorities are now facing at Juneau Douglas High School and have been facing for generations. MR BREMMER gave members copies of his written testimony and a copy may be found in the bill file. BARBARA BRINK stated that she would reserve her comments until the Judiciary Committee heard the bill. JOSH FINK said he too would reserve his comments. CHAIR GARY STEVENS apologized for the time constraints. DENISE MORRIS, President of the Alaska Native Justice Center (ANJC), stated that ANJC, through the board of directors supports passage of SB 246. She drew attention to the fact that as a member of the bipartisan State of Alaska Commission on Tolerance, which was created in part as a result of the Anchorage paint ball incident, one of the recommendations was the passage of hate crime legislation. Although people don't like to think about or don't know that hate crimes occur, they do and the psychological impact on the victims is substantial. A number of the victims of the paint ball attack were severely traumatized when they had to give their victim impact statements. In both the Poindexter and the Hunter hate crime serial rapist cases in Anchorage, all the identified victims were Alaska Native women. In fact, Alaska Native women are 4.5 times more likely to be a homicide victim than any other rape across the United States. "The bill reflects our values and signals that hate crimes motivated are especially tragic. SB 264 alone cannot eliminate bias and hate. We cannot legislate the hearts of people, but we should hold them accountable for their actions, especially when those actions are motivated by prejudice, bias and hatred." It is time for this legislation, she said. CHAIR GARY STEVENS asked her to send her written testimony. Celeste Hodge, Deputy Director and Community Outreach Liaison, testified via teleconference on behalf of the Municipality of Anchorage in support of SB 246. She said she was president of the NAACP for over a decade and in that capacity, she worked endlessly to combat racism. Even so, hate crimes continue to plague the nation and are on the increase. She described SB 246 as important legislation and a necessary tool to help fight the continuing problem of hate crimes against people because of their race, religion, national origin, gender, disability or sexual orientation. It signals that crimes motivated by hate are especially reprehensible because they are not merely crimes against an individual, but rather crimes against the entire community. I would urge passage of SB 246 as written, she said. CHAIR GARY STEVENS asked her to send her written testimony to the committee. A. W. FULLENWIDER, standing committee member of the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission, spoke as a private citizen in support of SB 246. Hate crimes strike fear in people who have done nothing wrong, but are members of an identifiable group. It is the government's responsibility to ensure equal protection for all, she asserted. CHAIR GARY STEVENS thanked Senator Lincoln for presenting the bill and asked if she had concluding remarks. SENATOR LINCOLN said she was comfortable with the testimony that was given. CHAIR GARY STEVENS asked for a motion. SENATOR BERT STEDMAN motioned to pass SB 246 from committee with individual recommendations and the attached fiscal note. There being no objection, it was so ordered.