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Washington AGO to launch hotline for reporting ‘bias incidents’

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(The Center Square) – The Washington Attorney General’s Office has announced plans to launch a pilot program next year for a new hotline for state residents to report hate crimes subject to legal action and “bias incidents” based on whether the person feels aggrieved.

The hotline will first operate in King, Spokane and Clark counties starting in July 2025, with a statewide system to begin operating in 2027. The hotline was authorized by the state Legislature earlier this year after it enacted Senate Bill 5427 sponsored by Sen. Javier Valdez, D-Seattle; as originally written, the bill would have allowed people reporting hate crimes to potentially receive up to $2,000.

According to an AGO press release, the hotline will be used to collect “invaluable statewide data on hate and bias incidents that is not currently available,” with plans to publish an annual report on hate crimes and bias incidents.

The proposal drew criticism while it moved through the legislative process for how it allows individuals to report non-criminal activity to the state’s top prosecutor’s office. While hate crimes are defined by state law as involving a crime committed based on the offender’s perception of the victim’s identity, which includes sexual orientation or ethnicity. When a person reports a hate crime, the information is shared with law enforcement.

However, the AGO’s press release described bias incidents as “acts of prejudice that are not criminal in nature and do not involve violence, threats or property damage. Just because these incidents cannot be criminally charged does not mean they are not important to report.” Such incidents are not reported to law enforcement, but the person reporting them are given other resources including support services or counseling.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a press release statement that “the hotline will help victims of hate crimes and bias incidents find culturally appropriate resources and support. We must all work together to combat hate and stand up for individuals and communities who are harmed.”

However, Julie Barrett with Conservative Ladies of Washington wrote in a Substack article that “we cannot define crimes based on ‘perception.’ This would be a constantly moving target and would differ for each individual. We cannot be making it a ‘crime’ to offend someone, which is essentially what this policy/hotline does.”

Ferguson convened the Multidisciplinary Hate Crimes Advisory Working Group in 2019 via House Bill 1732, which was also sponsored by then-Rep. Valdez. The working group released a report in 2020.

Aside from the hotline, the groups’ recommendations included making hate crimes subject to community custody, in which after being released a person is labeled an “offender” and subject to monitoring by a state official.

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