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Washington lawmakers look to broaden hate crime law to cover vandalizing public property

Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig speaks on the Senate floor on Friday, Feb. 2, 2024.
Legislative Support Services
Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig speaks on the Senate floor on Friday, Feb. 2, 2024.

It didn’t make sense to Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig that vandals targeting the LGBTQ+ community in his Spokane hometown couldn’t be charged with a hate crime for some of their acts if caught.

While provisions of the state’s hate crime law covered spray painting of epithets on the Odyssey Youth Movement building, pouring paint on Spokane Pride’s rainbow crosswalks did not.

That’s because under the law one can be found guilty of a hate crime if they damage or destroy the property of a “victim or another person”, and if they acted “maliciously and intentionally” because of “the victim’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression or identity, or mental, physical, or sensory disability.”

“Hateful defacement” of public property isn’t covered, Billig said.

Senate Bill 5917, which Billig sponsored and passed on a 35-14 vote on Friday, would expand Washington’s hate crime law to apply to public property.

The change “will help make our communities be safer and feel safer,”Billig said on the floor before the vote.

Later, in a formal statement, he said the legislation “strengthens our hate crime laws to include our shared public spaces and symbols of inclusion while sending a strong message of unity against these heinous attacks.”

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, opposed the bill, questioning whether the proposed wording changes accomplish the goal.

The Senate bill does not add specific mention of defacing public property into law. Rather it would replace “the victim” with “another person” inthe portion of the existing statute listing what constitutes a hate crime. Backers say the revision is enough to achieve the goal.

“We all feel very strongly against hate crimes. I must say I don’t really understand that distinction because there can still be a victim of a hate crime on public property in my mind,” Padden said.

The bill now moves to the state House of Representatives for consideration.

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This story was originally published by Washington State Standard.