Florida's hate crime law could be expanded to create enhanced penalties for people who commit offenses against someone based on their gender or gender identity under a bill approved by a Senate committee Tuesday.
The Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted 5-2 for the legislation, which would increase the level of crime if it's motivated by those factors. For example, a first degree misdemeanor would become a third degree felony and a third degree felony would become a second degree felony.
The bill also expands the definition of disability under current law that protects people from hate crimes. Current law includes disabilities “due to a developmental disability, organic brain damage, or mental illness.” The bill would include any disability that creates limits on a person's major life activities.
“Hate crimes are a rot. They are a stain on our society,” said Democratic Sen. Lori Berman, the bill's sponsor. “This bill is actually more than just a vehicle for increasing sentences. It recognizes that hate motivated acts strike special fear in the entire community and that we here in Florida won't tolerate it.”
The state's current law provides enhanced penalties for crimes based on the race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, homeless status and the advanced age of the victim.
Republican Sen. Keith Perry said he opposed the bill because he did not think one crime victim should get special treatment over another victim of the same crime that was not motivated by hate.
“It's hard for me to imagine that we would take equal crimes and tell the victims or the families of the victims that we're going to now do more for one victim than another victim," Perry said. “There are equal crimes and there should be equal justice under those crimes.”
The bill has two more committee stops before being heard by the full Senate.