A cabinet-level panel set up by the governor wants to toughen state laws to crack down on people who commit hate crimes.
At a press conference today, Gov. Tony Knowles released a report by the Governor's Task Force on Tolerance, which he set up in March after three white teens videotaped themselves shooting paintballs at Alaska Natives in Anchorage. The panel recommended the state pass legislation to impose mandatory minimum sentences ranging from 10 to 60 days for hate crime misdemeanors.
"Current Alaska law provides sanctions for felony hate crimes, but there are no specific sanctions for misdemeanor hate crimes," according to a report by the task force, which included Attorney General Bruce Botelho, Public Safety Commissioner Glenn Godfrey, Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Karen Perdue and Knowles Senior Adviser Will Mayo. Felony crimes include murder and serious assault, while misdemeanors are less serious, including vandalism and small thefts.
The panel also recommended Knowles introduce legislation to:
Forbid courts from suspending sentences of people convicted of hate crimes.
Require juveniles who commit hate crimes to perform community service and attend a diversity tolerance program.
Allow hate crime victims to file civil suits and collect actual and punitive damages.
Allow tougher sentences for people convicted of felony hate crimes who target homosexuals or poor people. The law already allows more severe sentences for felons who target victims because of race, gender, color or other factors.
The task force also wants Knowles to create a Commission on Tolerance to hold hearings around the state. The commission would gauge the depth of the problem and make recommendations.
In addition, the panel recommended the Alaska Department of Public Safety include classes on hate crimes in police training. It also wanted the state to distribute to students pamphlets against intolerance and encourage educators to teach children how to resolve conflicts respectfully.
Knowles, a Democrat, said he will introduce a package of hate-crime bills this week and direct his commissioners to put the other proposals into effect. Rampart Democrat Sen. Georgianna Lincoln introduced legislation last month to toughen hate crime laws, but the bill has not moved from its first committee. Lincoln supported the panel's approach.
"If we are to eradicate discrimination, hatred, then we must follow this path," Lincoln said.
Senate President Rick Halford said he would consider the task force proposals.
"I haven't seen the legislation, but I'm certainly open to looking at the question," said Halford, a Chugiak Republican.
Kathy Dye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.