WA Senate passes bill allowing hate crime charges for defacing public property

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(The Center Square) – The Washington State Senate has passed a bill that could classify certain types of public defacement subject to felony prosecution if it’s perceived to be an act of “hate.”

Senate Bill 5917 amends existing state law regarding hate crimes by making them applicable to public property. Speaking on the Senate floor prior to Friday’s vote, Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said the bill is intended to close a “loophole” after individuals poured paint over “Pride Crosswalks” in Spokane last year.

“This incident was a real blow to our community,” he said. [It] created a lot of anger and fear.”

He added that “this is not just about one incident.”

Existing state law makes it a hate crime if a person causes damage to private property based on their perception of the victim’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression or identity, and certain types of disabilities. The bill would eliminate the reference to “private property” and simply refer to property.

Speaking against the bill was Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, who noted the bill made significant changes to the state’s hate crime laws. For example, the section that defines the perpetrator’s perception of “the victim” would be altered to simply state “another person.”

At the bill’s Jan. 25 vote in the Senate Committee on Law & Justice, Padden told colleagues that “here you’re opening up the hate crime statute on a single incident. The ideal response to an unsolved crime is not to broaden the RCW and hope you can catch the perpetrator the next time.”

The bill has not yet been referred to a House committee.

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