LANSING, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – State lawmakers and officials testified on new legislation that would increase penalties for those convicted of hate crimes.
The first two bills that the Committee on Criminal Justice considered were House Bills 4474 and 4475, which were defended by Representative Noah Arbit (D-West Bloomfield) and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.
“Hate violence is carved out in the law because it is terroristic in nature,” Representative Arbit said, “There is never just one victim in a hate crime, an entire community is victimized too. Hate crimes tell all those who share a victim’s identity, all people like you aren’t welcome, people like you don’t belong, people like you aren’t safe.”
Rep. Arbit continued by explaining why he introduced the bills, in part to address rising hate crimes.
“As a proud Jew and gay man, I will not sit idly by as communities I am a part of continue to be threatened by rising hate crimes,” he said.
AG Nessel, who is married to a woman, advocated strongly for the bills, and explained some of her past actions that helped reduce hate crimes in the state.
“In 2019, as Attorney General, I established the first Hate Crimes and Domestic Terrorism Unit, of any state AG’s office in the nation,” Nessell said, “Hate Crimes continue to be on the rise, both nationally and here in the state of Michigan. The FBI recently reported a 31% increase in hate crimes in just a single year.”
“Michigan is fifth in the nation per population in terms of the number of hate crimes that are committed,” she added.
House Bill 4474 as introduced in the house clarifies the various groups that could be receiving hate crimes on the basis of many factors including: race or color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, physical or mental disability, age, ethnicity, national origin. The bill specifies what would constitute intimidation and harassment as behavior including:
“Causes bodily injury or severe mental anguish to another individual; uses force or violence on another individual; damages, destroys, or defaces any real, personal, digital, or online property of another individual; or threatens, by word or act, to do any of the above-described actions, if the person, regardless of the existence of any other motivating factors, intentionally targets the individual or engages in the action based in whole or in part on any of the following actual or perceived characteristics of another individual.”
Those opposed to the bill worry that it will not be wielded to protect all groups equally.
“Under this amended criminal statute if you speak out against abortion, teenage transgender males showering with females and taking their spots on women’s teams, illegal immigrants flooding our nation, or simply refuse to use a person’s preferred pronouns, you will be prosecuted for a felony and can receive up to 5 years in prison and be fined $10,000.00,” Salt and Light Senior Legal Counsel and attorney David Kallman expressed ahead of the committee meeting. “But rest assured this law will not be enforced equally. If you want to attack pro-life pregnancy centers, assault others, or burn government buildings like Antifa, BLM, and other leftist groups, feel free to continue with your lawless behavior. This law is not meant for you.”
Similarly, Executive Director & Chief Operating Officer of Salt & Light Global, Katherine Bussard expressed her frustrations for not allowing public comment during the committee hearing, while only relying on remarks from elected officials.
“The hearing today, this is the time for the public and the people of Michigan, when they should have an opportunity to inform the conversation and help the lawmakers do critical thinking about all the unintended consequences until we come up with the best solution possible,” Bussard said.
Instead, only elected officials with official government platforms were able to speak according to Bussard, rather than allowing the voice of the people on either side to weigh in on the issue.
“The biggest thing would be to go back and rework the definitions and rework the standards so that they are very clear and they are respectful of the confines of the first amendment,” Bussard said, “And it’s a really terrible thing when you have a group of lawmakers whose power is limited by the constitution and not one of them says, hey how does this interact and interplay with the authority delegated to us under the constitution? Is this within the scope of our authority under the first amendment?”
According to Bussard, the way the language is currently written, individuals such as pastors or journalists could find themselves embroiled in a legal battle if their audience felt mental anguish from their words.
“This law creates a standard where you are liable for causing someone to feel victimized, regardless of your intent,” she later added, “Someone who reads your article and suffers emotional anguish and feels upset or offended by the story you reported, could take legal action against you the reporter, who simply reported the facts.”
The committee went into recess ahead of Tuesday’s House Session, but anticipates voting on whether to approve the bills with recommendation to the House later Tuesday afternoon.