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Friday, March 21, 2003

Hate Crimes Bill Poised for OK

By Kate Nash
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE New Mexico is expected to soon join 45 other states with hate crimes laws under a measure approved by the House on Thursday.
    The House approved the measure, which the Senate approved earlier, on a 39-27 vote. It now goes to Gov. Bill Richardson, who earlier this month said he'll sign it.
    The measure (SB 38 and 249 committee substitute), sponsored by Sens. Mary Jane Garcia, D-Doña Ana, and Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, defines a hate crime and lays out penalties for perpetrators of crimes that are proven to be motivated by hate.
    Supporters said hateful acts ought to carry additional penalties. Some opponents of the bill said it would give special rights to gays.
    "It's an appropriate place for society to get involved and it's an appropriate place for us to make a statement," said House Minority Whip Joe Thompson, R-Albuquerque, who voted for the bill.
    The New Mexico House and Senate have twice approved hate crimes bills but then-Gov. Gary Johnson vetoed them.
    Under the measure, a hate crime is a crime perpetrated because of someone's "actual or perceived race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity."
    The measure also would apply to crimes committed out of hate against someone over 60 or who is physically or mentally handicapped.
    If a jury finds beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime was motivated by hate, additional time could be tacked onto jail sentences.
    Opponents said it would be tough for juries to determine what perpetrators were thinking.
    Up to a year could be added to the basic sentence for a crime motivated by hate. A punishment for someone who is found to have committed previous hate crimes could be increased by up to two years. Alternative sentences also could be imposed, such as education, community service or treatment.
    The bill also calls for law enforcement officials to be trained in recognizing and responding to such crimes. Hate crime information would be reported to the FBI.
    Rep. Earlene Roberts, R-Lovington, opposed the bill because of her religious beliefs.
    "That black book (the Bible) tells me homosexuality is not the right lifestyle," she said.
    Rep. J. Paul Taylor, D-Mesilla, said he also grew up reading the Bible.
    "I don't have the same perception from the black book that maybe other people have. I was taught that people around (me) are as worthy as I."