Democrats and Native leaders are stepping up pressure on the Republican-controlled Senate to move on hate crimes legislation.
Gov. Tony Knowles and Sens. Georgianna Lincoln of Rampart and Bettye Davis of Anchorage say it's upsetting that Senate committees haven't even scheduled hearings on the bill introduced by Lincoln last year.
The bill would create minimum sentences and otherwise strengthen penalties when felonies are committed on the basis of race, religion, national origin, disability, sex or sexual orientation. It was partly a response to the widely publicized paintball attack on Natives in Anchorage last year.
"Hate crimes have no place in a civilized society, and for that reason the issue needs to be addressed in a comprehensive way," Julie Kitka, president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, wrote recently to top legislative leaders.
The issue came up again today as Knowles announced an administrative order based on recommendations of a tolerance commission he appointed last year.
The order is intended to renew the state's commitment to diversity in the workplace and to oppose discrimination and harassment in public agencies, the governor said. It affects state government procedures for recruitment, requires "diversity training" for supervisors, and streamlines the handling of complaints.
"In signing this order, I call on the Legislature to join me in taking swift action in response to the recommendations of the tolerance commission, including resolving subsistence, adding a second verse to the Alaska Flag Song to celebrate the contribution of Alaska's Native peoples, and increasing penalties for hate crimes," Knowles said.
Senate President Rick Halford, a Chugiak Republican, said he wants to address the perception of an urban-rural divide, which often is seen as a race relations problem between urban whites and rural Natives.
Halford favors legislation to add a Native-related verse to the flag song and to require that Alaska history be made part of school curriculum, although he said not all 14 members of his majority agree with him.
But he said that hate crimes legislation raises "major definitional questions" associated with treating crime victims differently.
"Some victim is going to conclude his victimization is worth less than someone else's victimization," Halford said.
Bill McAllister can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.