Senate Democrat introduces bill to elevate hate crimes

Posted: Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard mostly supportive testimony Monday of a measure that would dole out harsher sentences in crimes motivated by hatred, bias or prejudice.

Specifically, the bill bumps such crimes one notch higher than the corresponding crime with no hate motivation in the state's six-tier crime classification system.

Sen. Bettye Davis, the Legislature's only black member, is the sponsor.

"I'm not the first person to introduce it, but I hope I will be the last," the Anchorage Democrat told the committee.

Supporters included representatives of a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality group and mental health organizations. The bill covers crime directed at victims based on their "race, sex, color, creed, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, ancestry or national origin."

Two board members for the group Alaskans Together For Equality and the head of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska urged the committee to add language covering gender identity.

Kelli Burkinshaw of Alaskans Together For Equality teetered between tears and testimony while speaking about gender identity. She said she was bullied as a youth because she had masculine physical attributes.

A former Alaska military policeman who identified himself as David Eastman was critical of the proposal. Testifying by phone, he said the bill was inconsistent with the concept of equal protection under the law and that he disagreed with criminalizing motives.

"Crime is inherently discriminatory," he said.

An identity thief might choose a mark because they're old, but if it's based on race, "it becomes a crime of motivations," Eastman said. "Do we need the government to tell us our motivations are bad? ... Putting someone away for five years isn't going to make them a more loving person."

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