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‘Bias incident’ hotline bill revived in Washington Senate

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(The Center Square) – A Washington bill introduced last session creating a hotline to report hate crimes and “bias incidents” has been revived in the Senate. Although lawmakers have made significant changes to the original bill, some critics still argue that the overall concept still runs contrary to the idea of free speech.

Sponsored by Sen. Javier Valdez, D-Seattle, Senate Bill 5427 would authorize the creation of a hotline within the State Attorney General’s Office to report crimes designated as ‘hate crimes,’ as well as protected speech or expression deemed to be ‘bias incidents.'”

The bill originally would have provided up to $2,000 per incident to a person reporting to the hotline, but the provision was removed. The hotline also would not take names of the people who allegedly committed a hate crime or “bias incidents.”

Among those in support of it is the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. Speaking on behalf of the association, James McMahan told the Senate Ways & Means Committee at a Thursday’s public hearing that “we think this provides help to those who need help.”

Also in support was Snohomish County Prosecutor Jason Cummings, who told the committee “hate crime is on the rise in our community.” He added that the bill would complement “the efforts that are already underway in Snohomish County” and make people feel comfortable reporting incidents.

Opposed to the bill was John Coleman with Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, who said “it would chill protected speech. The bill’s definition of bias incident covers expression, not conduct or crimes.”

Also against it was Washington Policy Center Education Director Liv Finne, who said it would create a “sanctioned surveillance and reporting system to monitor the speech of private citizens. The bill does not provide any standard of evidence. This bill encourages people to judge each other.”

Julie Barrett with the Conservative Ladies of Washington told the committee that “the language of this bill is very ambiguous and leads wide open for individual perception and interpretation. Perception isn’t always reality. We cannot make laws deeming people criminal based on people’s perception.”

She added the resources necessary for the hotline would be “better directed at concrete crimes that can be verified.”

No further action is scheduled for SB 5427.

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