HRC Blog

Alaska State Senate to Consider Hate Crimes Measure

Alaska 7Tomorrow, the Alaska Senate Judiciary Committee will be holding its second hearing on the Alaska Hate Crimes Bill (SB 202). Since the passage of the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr Hate Crimes Prevention Act, some confusion has arisen over the role of state hate crimes legislation. The federal act [pdf], in short, permits the federal government to investigate bias motivated violent crimes, prosecute those hate crimes that have a federal nexus, provide resources to local law enforcement and collect data on hate crimes.  In order to have a federal nexus, the crime must relate to a federal interest such as interstate travel or have occurred on federal property. Because the federal government cannot prosecute all hate crimes, states need to step in and fill the gaps. State hate crimes prevention acts direct state and local law enforcement officials to prosecute all bias motivated crimes. Local officials are often in the best position to conduct investigations and provide expedient prosecutions. Many state laws go further than the federal law by covering crimes against property, and many often include sentencing enhancements specific to state law. In Alaska, the proposed bill currently does not include gender identity. Since Wednesday is the second hearing on the bill, the focus will likely be an exploration of possible amendments to the bill, potentially followed by a vote to determine passage out of committee. This is the time for Alaskan’s to take action by asking their State Senators on the Judiciary Committee to amend the bill by adding gender identity and expression.

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