ANNAPOLIS – Homosexuals and transgendered people would receive the same legal protections against hate crimes as other minority groups under a bill passed by the House of Delegates Sunday 99-41.
Delegate Adrienne A. Jones, D-Baltimore County, sponsor of HB-365, sees the issue as a burgeoning problem, especially in Baltimore and Montgomery County. Incidents, she said, seem to occur in spurts.
Similar legislation was filed in the Senate by Sen. Sharon Grosfeld, D-Montgomery, and heard by the Judicial Proceedings Committee March 17. It has not received a vote.
“The impetus for this legislation is the fact that our current law doesn’t include a population that is often targeted because of sexual orientation or gender identity,” Grosfeld said. “There have been numerous incidents against gays, lesbians, transsexuals. We need to have a law that protects these individuals from these hate crimes.”
Under the new legislation, people who commit acts of racial, ethnic or religious hatred would be subject to felony penalties of a maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine up to $20,000. The bill also stipulates that crimes of vandalism against houses of worship, religious schools or cemeteries would be subject to felony penalties.
Baltimore County Deputy State’s Attorney Sue Schenning supports the legislation because the hate crimes law should be applied to incidents of sexual prejudice, and she said her organization sees these kinds of hate crimes in Maryland.
“They (homosexuals) should be entitled to same protections,” said Schenning who has worked with Jones in the past. “In previous years, there has not been any opposition from law enforcement. Most of us in law enforcement think this is an appropriate expansion.”
However, their safety is not always preserved in Maryland.
Grosfeld pointed to eight hate crimes in Baltimore in the past several years, but said the incidents are probably underrepresented in statistics because there is no reporting requirement.
Almost 17 percent of the 7,462 hate crimes in 2002 were related to sexual orientation, while approximately 48 percent of the incidents were racially-biased, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Reports on Hate Crimes.
The FBI study also found the most common hate crime stems from attempts to intimidate.
Jones said she’s helped push for such a law for the past three years, and got the bill through the House last year, but it was rejected by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
Gregory Herek, a psychologist at the University of California, Davis, said many people do not report hate crimes because of fear of bias in the criminal justice system, according to an American Psychological Association publication from March 2004. -30- CNS-3