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Friday, February 28, 2003

Senate Passes Hate Crimes Bill

By Kate Nash
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE The Senate on Thursday approved a measure to penalize hateful acts against people based on the victims' race, sexual orientation, religion and other characteristics or beliefs.
    New Mexico would join 45 other states that have so-called hate crime laws. The Senate-passed measure now goes to the House and, if adopted there, would be sent to Gov. Bill Richardson.
    Senators voted 24-17 in favor of the bill after about four hours of debate.
    Hate crimes legislation has twice been approved by the New Mexico House and Senate, but was vetoed by former Gov. Gary Johnson. Richardson, who took office this year, has said he supports the intent of the measure but has stopped short of saying he would sign it. Proponents said they were confident he would approve the legislation should the House pass it.
    The measure (SB 38 and SB 249 committee substitute) defines a hate crime and allows extra time to be tacked onto jail sentences when the crimes are determined to be motivated by hate.
    Those crimes would include offenses committed because of someone's "actual or perceived race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity." It would also add jail time for crimes against the elderly and handicapped, if the crime was motivated by hate for people in those groups.
    Bill sponsor Sen. Mary Jane Garcia, D-Doña Ana, said in an interview that New Mexico needs to "join the rest of the nation."
    She said she's sponsoring the bill after two men one who was perceived to be gay and another who is of East Indian decent were attacked and hurt in her Las Cruces-area district.
    "We need to have a law against that," she said.
    Much like a hearing Wednesday on a bill to ban discrimination because of sexual orientation, the Senate's debate on Garcia's bill was lengthy and involved several proposed amendments.
    One amendment, by Sen. Steve Komadina, R-Corrales, would have included as hate crimes offenses done out of hate for someone's economic status, political party or profession. The amendment failed on a 20-21 vote.
    Another amendment proposed by Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, added penalties for crimes against people 60 or older and crimes against the physically or mentally handicapped. It was approved 37-4.
    Supporters of the bill say New Mexico needs to crack down on hate crimes.
    "This is two positive steps to where we need to be," said Jean M.B. Genasci, a retired teacher, referring to the House-approved bill to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and to the hate crimes bill.
    "There will be redress, which there isn't now," she said.
    Opponents said the bill draws distinctions between crimes for different types of people.
    "We end up distinguishing everyone from each other rather than saying we're all in this together," said Sen. Joe Carraro, R-Albuquerque.
   
Hate Crimes bill
    Key provisions of "hate crimes" legislation adopted by the Senate on Thursday:
   
  • The measure (SB 38 and 249 committee substitute) defines a hate crime as an offense committed out of hate for someone's actual or perceived race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity, regardless of whether the offender's belief or perception is correct.
       
  • An amendment by Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, approved on the Senate floor Thursday evening includes crimes against people 60 and older and who are physically and mentally handicapped.
       
  • If a court or jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime was motivated by hate, an additional year could be added to the basic sentence for that crime. Alternative sentences could also be imposed, such as community service, education or treatment.
        If a person is found to have committed a prior hate crime, an additional two years could be added to a sentence, under the proposal.