ST. PAUL — The Minnesota House is moving forward a bill to update the state’s hate crime statutes, which proponents say will help the state more accurately track hate crime incidents.
Both the House’s public safety and judiciary committees passed the bill this week as it makes its way through the Democratic-controlled House, and ultimately the state’s divided Legislature. House File 1691 has several major components: it would allow community organizations to report hate crimes to the state’s Department of Human Rights, update police officers’ training to respond to hate crimes, codify hateful graffiti as a hate crime and add gender identity and expression as a protected class covered by the law.
The bill comes amid years of upwardly trending reported hate crimes as documented by the FBI and, most recently, a string of shootings in Atlanta at several Asian-owned businesses. Six of the victims were women of Asian descent.
State Rep. Samantha Vang, D-Brooklyn Center, said HF 1691 “can help improve how hate and discrimination is reported and shed light to the realities our communities are experiencing.”
“We must take action against hate and we can’t allow for it to continue because we have seen what it looks like last Tuesday (March 16) in Atlanta,” she said.
The bill this week passed the House's public safety and judiciary committees by 10-8 and 11-5 votes, respectively. Republican lawmakers in both committees brought up concerns over the bill, namely over the bill's updated police training requirements and inclusion of gender nonbinary Minnesotans as a protected class.
Rep. Matt Grossell, R-Clearbrook, during the Tuesday, March 23, public safety committee unsuccessfully introduced an amendment to add police officers as a protected class in the hate crime statute. Hate crime laws typically grant additional protection to protected classes who are victimized because of immutable characteristics, such as their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality and more — not their occupations. Minnesota has existing laws enhancing penalties for crimes committed against police officers. Grossell's amendment was voted down.
Rep. Eric Lucero, R-Dayton, also proposed his own amendment on Tuesday to eliminate the bill's protections for Minnesotans based on their gender identities, insisting that there are only two genders. His amendment also failed.
The bill has the support of numerous community organizations, such as the Coalition of Asian American Leaders, Jewish Community Action, Council on American-Islamic Relations, OutFront Minnesota and more.
Community organizations are specifically enthused for the bill's section granting them authority to report hate crimes to the state. Oftentimes, they said victims are more comfortable confiding in them than the police, or don't know how to navigate the criminal justice system on their own. They hope allowing them to step in will result in more accurate hate crime reporting data.
Nick Kor of the Coalition of Asian American Leaders said in a Tuesday news conference that community members are already coming to them to report incidents because they can trust the coalition. HF 1691 would give the coalition and other organizations more tools to help, he said.
"What happened in Atlanta never has to happen again and we have a chance to make sure it never happens," Kor said. "Our communities are in pain. We are hurting. We are scared and we’re looking for elected officials to take action right now."
After a year of record-breaking violence reported against Asian Americans, Vang said, "We have seen a whole year go by not calling it what it is and we should have seen (the Georgia shooting) coming."
"What happened in Atlanta was definitely a racially motivated attack. If we don't call it out for what it is, we are going to see more of it," she said. "We must be the leaders to say that that is not OK."
HF 1691 has yet to go through the House’s Ways and Means Committee before it can reach the floor for a final vote.