Updated: Panel Rejects Bill to Expand Hate Crimes Laws in Virginia
By Benjamin May via Capital News Service
A Senate committee on Wednesday defeated a bill to include sexual orientation and gender identification in the state’s definition of hate crimes.
The Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted 6-7 against Senate Bill 799, which was sponsored by Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington. All six Democrats on the committee supported the measure; all seven Republican committee members opposed it.
SB 799 would have expanded the definition of “hate crime” to include offenses committed against a person because of sexual orientation or gender identification. It would have required law enforcement agencies to report such crimes to State Police.
“Every Virginian should feel welcome and enjoy equal protection under the law,” Favola said in a press release urging approval of her bill. “It is critically important to send a message that no one should experience violence or harassment based on gender identification or perceived sexual orientation.”
Attorney General Mark Herring, another Democrat, worked with Favola to write the bill. “No Virginian should be singled out for violence or discrimination because of who they are, whom they love or where they come from,” Herring said.
At the committee’s meeting Wednesday, a few people from the audience spoke in favor of SB 799. Then, with little discussion, the committee voted.
Voting yes were Sens. Dick Saslaw of Springfield, Janet Howell of Reston, Louise Lucas of Portsmouth, John Edwards of Roanoke, Linda Puller of Mount Vernon and Donald McEachin of Richmond.
Voting no were Sens. Thomas Norment of Williamsburg, Mark Obenshain of Harrisonburg, Ryan McDougle of Mechanicsville, William Stanley of Moneta, Bryce Reeves of Fredericksburg, Thomas Garrett of Hadensville and Ben Chafin of Lebanon.
A bill identical to Favola’s is awaiting action in the House of Delegates. It is House Bill 1494, sponsored by Del. Richard “Rip” Sullivan of Arlington.
Sexual orientation and gender identity are currently missing from Virginia’s hate crime legislation, but that might change if a senators new bill makes it to Gov. McAuliffe’s desk by the end of the 2015 GA.
Today, Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) introduced Senate Bill 799 which would expand the definition of hate crimes to those “committed against a person because of sexual orientation or gender identification,” covering Virginia’s LGBTQ community incase they are attacked for who they love.
The state code which would be amended by this bill currently requires local police departments to report crimes committed against someone because of their “race, religion or national origin” to the Superintendent of the Department of State Police.
“Every Virginian should feel welcome and enjoy equal protection under the law. It is critically important to send a message that no one should experience violence or harassment based on gender identification or perceived sexual orientation,” Favola said in a press release.
According to the FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics, 20 percent of all 5,922 hate crimes in 2013 were committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation.
Hate crime reporting is already requested (not required) by federal mandate, and these numbers are maintained by the FBI who usually intervene in such crimes.
Here in Virginia, 12 of a total 119 reported hate crimes were committed against someone’s sexual orientation. There were no reported crimes against someones gender identity (this was the first year GI was included in reporting)
Newport News lead over other localities with two reported hate crimes, though the FBI discourages ranking as “rankings ignore the uniqueness of each locale,” with issues like population density and degree of urbanization making it hard to compare areas.
Richmond had no sexual orientation or GI reported hate crimes, but one dealing with ethnicity.
Hate crimes began being reported in 2009, however reporting these crimes to the FBI is not mandatory.
Attorney General Mark Herring assisted Sen. Favola in drafting the bill. He has shown his support for the LGBTQ community since refusing to defend Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage.
“No Virginian should be singled out for violence or discrimination because of who they are, whom they love, or where they come from,” said Herring. “I am proud to have worked with Sen. Favola to introduce this important measure.”
SB 799, also patroned by Virginia’s only openly gay Senator Adam Ebbin, is one of several bills this session that seeks to expand the rights of LGBTQ Virginias since the legalization of same-sex marriage.
(Top image – Virginia is one of 20 states which lack LGBTQ inclusive hate crime laws via Pittsburgh City Paper)
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