Lawmakers in Minnesota are going ahead with a new bill that significantly increases the penalties for hate-motivated crimes in the state.
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a measure on March 18 that increases the maximum penalties awarded for felony assaults motivated by the victim’s religion, skin color, race or ethnicity by 25 percent.
The new bill increasing the penalties was introduced by Senator Ron Latz following an incident at a Coons Rapids Applebee’s restaurant in October 2015 in which a woman was attacked by a fellow patron for speaking Swahili.
The alleged attacker in the incident was charged with third-degree assault by the prosecutors and not with a hate crime. Currently the maximum penalty for hate crimes in the state is a gross misdemeanor. Senator Latz explained the rationale behind the new bill, explaining that it will allow prosecutors to ask for harsher penalties for perpetrators of hate crimes.
Several senators have questioned the new bill. The top concern is that it does not address the “real issues” and favors the victims of hate crimes over victims of other assaults motivated by reasons such as anger or vengeance. Many questioned why the penalties for hate-motivated assaults must be increased while the penalties for felony assaults remain the same. Senator Latz argued that hate-motivated crimes were “uniquely corrupting” for the society and required extra penalties.
The bill increasing the penalties for hate crimes currently applies only to felony assaults. However, many lawmakers are interested in widening its scope in the future.
Although this new bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee, it will have to cross a number of additional hurdles before it becomes a law.