Skip to comments.Bias-crime Law a Hard Sell in WY
Posted on 10/05/2003 7:22:10 AM PDT by Theodore R.
Bias-crime law a hard sell in Wyoming
By Juliette Rule email@example.com Published in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle
CHEYENNE - Not so long ago, the U.S. Constitution that protected everyone failed to allow women at the polls. A law changed that, just as it did for blacks who sought equal protection under the stewardship of leaders like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Such is the argument some make to bring a bias-crime law to the Wyoming Legislature.
This state is one of just four that haven't passed a single piece of hate-crime legislation. The Equality State joins Arkansas, Indiana and South Carolina, says the Human Rights Campaign, which works for equal rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered population.
That is frustrating, says state Senate Minority Floor Leader Jayne Mockler, D-Cheyenne, who adds that she can't seem to get a straight answer on why fellow legislators won't follow her lead and pass a bias-crime law.
She has proposed such a law, which would enhance penalties for those convicted of a misdemeanor in which bigotry was a motivating factor. The distinction needs to be made clear, she said, because while all people are created equal, crimes aren't committed equally.
Toilet-papering a neighbor's house, she said, is different from painting a swastika on a Jewish neighbor's front door. One, though senseless, is harmless; the other sends a ripple of fear through a sector of the community that feels targeted by hatred.
Under current law, both are considered misdemeanor property destruction, punishable by up to six months in the county jail and a $1,000 fine, plus the cost of restitution.
Mockler said she hasn't had much trouble finding support for the bill outside of the hallowed halls of the Capitol. But she added that she is stumped as to why no one will even argue with her on the floor about the bill's merits or lack of merits.
Last year was the first time in 10 years of legislative service she ever has received death threats on her home answering machine: Bias-crime legislation and wolves are hot-button topics, she said.
In private conversations, she gathers that fellow legislators feel this way: There hasn't been another Matthew Shepard incident in five years, and if there's only one every five years, there is no reason to worry about it.
But her most recent effort wouldn't have had any effect on the penalties faced by Shepard's murderers. He was the victim of a felony, she said, and she would like to bring the issue a little closer to home and target misdemeanor crimes.
When "hate crime" became dirty words, Mockler decided bias crime was a better fit for her Senate File 99 as she readied it for introduction.
It called for the enhancement of penalties for misdemeanors committed when the belief or perception of a victim's race, religion, color, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry led to the commission of the crime.
It doubled the fine and jail time for those convicted of bias crimes.
But Rep. Colin Simpson, R-Cody, said he would like to see the issue remain addressable solely by the bench. He opposes bias-crime legislation.
"We have the law on the books," he said. "How many are given the maximum penalty for misdemeanor battery? Not very many, if any."
Rather than pass a law listing particularly vulnerable groups, he said he would prefer to focus on evil intent and malice, which already are on the books.
Those, he says, can be considered by judges as aggravating factors and can encourage them to take a closer look at defendants whose crimes are motivated by bigotry or the intentional selection of a person because of their association with a group.
Doing so, he said, would allow legislators and others to get away from a political connotation.
He advocated the passage of House Bill 185, which would have doubled the potential fine and sentence length.
Simpson remembers that in 1999 - the session after the Shepard murder - bias- and hate- crime law was hotly debated. In the end, he said, he sensed that making a list of vulnerable victims troubled legislators.
"I think it's more the general classification and stratification of people," he said.
For others, like Albin pastor Errol Mannon, the discussion raises concerns of free speech.
He wondered at a hearing if pastors who preach against the gay lifestyle could face sanctions. Could they be penalized for reading what the Bible says, he asked state representatives.
Sexual orientation brought its own troubles to the discussion, Simpson said.
But any talk of bias-crime legislation must center around sexual orientation, says Rep. Jane Warren, D-Laramie.
She adds that the issue is of particular interest to her because of her work as a mediator and psychotherapist. Warren holds a doctorate in counselor education.
"Working with people involves looking at change," she said.
She sees that change with civil-rights legislation passed in the 1960s.
"We changed the law, but we didn't necessarily change attitudes," she said. "I look at the law as an opportunity for change, rather than the imposition of a standard."
The law creates a standard of acceptable behavior. That's a sentiment counselor Sandra Mauchamer said she can get behind.
Crimes against gay people in Wyoming happened 20 years ago, but they weren't called hate crimes. Today, the effects of hate are subtler, she said, but the gay and lesbian community nationally is getting antsy for change, and, consequently, it's growing more vocal.
"I think that's why people fear (gay people) more," she said.
While opponents of bias-crime legislation refer to the special concessions it makes for groups of people, Warren says current law offers no equal protection for those same groups.
The issue of bias crime undoubtedly spins on an axis of a taboo topic: sex.
"It's not that this law will change people, but (it will) say that we support a standard," Warren said. "It's very frustrating to me that we're late (to adopt legislation)."
In a rural state with a sparse population, how much exposure do citizens really have to those issues, she asked.
"I think we're unexposed - a little nave," she added. "We don't get up and face these issues every day. It's a bit of reality for us, but those who are not treated equally need to be protected."
Mauchamer, who has facilitated support groups for gays and lesbians, said she recognizes the subtler tones of hate.
"It's not a hate crime, but it's a hate thing," she said. "The jokes, the slander, subtle and not-so-subtle put-downs, as if they are less than (other people). That's a politics of exclusion."
And such an unwritten policy only can be mitigated by a written policy setting specific penalties for those who perpetrate crimes against gay people or other lesser-protected groups, she said.
But Simpson responded, "If people honestly feel that the perpetrators of crimes of malice aren't being punished severely enough, that's an issue for the judiciary because there is room there for them to be punished."
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Hello Ms. Rule,
I would like to call your attention to the very first sentence that you had composed contained in your article titled, Bias-Crime Law a hard sell in Wy.
The sentence in question is as follows:
Not so long ago, the U.S. Constitution that protected everyone failed to allow women at the polls. A law changed that,
No law can change the federal or a state Constitution. The reason for a Constitution is to have a supreme document that enumerates rights which cannot be denied or disparaged by the tyranny of the majority simply by passing a law.
That being said, the issue of women having the enumerated right to vote was a change made to the U.S. Constitution, not by a law, but a change made by the enactment of a constitutional amendment, the proper and correct procedure.
AMENDMENT XIX (Proposed by Congress June 4, 1919. Ratified August 18, 1920.)
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Such stated inaccuracies, especially at the very beginning of an article, leads the educated and informed reader to believe that the rest of the article will also have inaccuracies stated within its contents designed to support an agenda or bias being promulgated that could not be successfully promulgated without the inaccuracy.
If you are interested, the proper constitutional analysis of the enactment of hate crime legislation is as follows:
I live in Missouri. Missouris hate crime law violates both the Missouri Constitution and the U.S. Constitution, as follows:
Missouri Constitution, Bill of Rights, Article I, Section 8.
Freedom of Speech
That NO LAW shall be passed impairing the freedom of speech, no matter by what means communicated; that every person shall be free to say, write or publish, or otherwise communicate whatever he will on any subject,...
U.S Constitution, Bill of Rights,
Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech,
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Why did you not make the same constitutional analysis, in your article, in regard to the proposed Wyoming hate crime law?
Thank you for your time spent to read this message.
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