Bill that would expand tracking and assessment of non-crime related hate/bias incidents laid over for further questions

By: Cirien Saadeh, Executive Director

A bill related to hate/bias incidents was discussed on Jan. 17 at the House Public Safety Finance and Policy committee. House File 181, authored by Representative Samantha Vang (DFL- District 38B) would expand reporting of crimes motivated by bias and amend crimes of assault, property damage, and harassment motivated by bias, misc. 

“This issue is not new to the committee, but it continues to be a timely and pressing issue today. That is, addressing the hate and bias incidents against our protected communities that we continue to see. We had an opportunity last year to address the rising hate and bias incidents against Asian-American being targeted for the Coronavirus but that was missed. And even though it may seem like it is post-pandemic, many Asian Americans still feel like they are left unprotected. The rise in anti-Asian sentiment is an example of many communities of the protected class who have and are experiencing hate and bias incidents,” said Vang. 

According to Vang, the bill would close a loophole in the existing hate crime statute and has three main components. Specifically, and as the first component, it allows for community reporting of the hate and bias incident and to report that to the Department of Human Rights

“As we have seen during the pandemic, when the Asian-American community was targeted for the Coronavirus, there was no effective infrastructure in place within the state to report what was actually happening to our community.”

Additionally, the bill would have the Peace Officers Standards and Training Board to update their processes to address the training and curriculum needs and response to hate and bias incidents. Additionally, it addresses a loophole in hate crimes committed on property.”

Vang was joined by three testifiers: Beth Gendler, the Executive Director of Jewish Community Action; Hnuchee Vang, the  Director of Policy and Advocacy at Coalition of Asian American Leaders; and Rebecca Lucero, the Commissioner for Department of Human Rights.

“After several different acts of hate and bias targeting masjids, synagogues, and community centers in Minnesota, We began conversations with our partners about how we could not only come together to support each other but to take meaningful action together to stop hate. We formed the Combating Hate Coalition which now includes 20 organizational partners. Our coalition recognizes that we need to update the laws that help us combat hate in Minnesota,” said Gendler. 

Hnuchee Vang also spoke, noting that there has been an increase in hate and bias crimes targeting Asian-Americans over the last several years. She named several examples: 

“In Woodbury, a Hmong family came home to a hateful note, calling them a racial slur and telling them to take the virus back to China posted on their doorstep. In another incident, a grandmother was physically attacked on the Light Rail and there have been hate incidents in schools across Minnesota. An Asian-Indian student was told by his peers to go back to Mexico due to the color of his skin and, at Edina High School, there was a video of students who were doing the Nazi salute and mocking Asian Americans.” 

According to Rebecca Lucero, Commissioner for the Department of Human Rights, the proposed legislation comes out of a community discussion and organizing. 

“Hate crimes themselves are tracked by the FBI, and here at the state level, by BCA. And of course if somebody calls about an incident covered by the Minnesota Human Rights Act, we would track and conduct that investigation. But for the many incidents that occur that may not be criminal, nor are they covered under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, there is no coordinated, consistent tracking, reporting, analysis, and recommendations on next steps. This bill is looking to get at that issue to ensure we have the information to work with community groups leading on this work. And the goal is to report back to all of you on what may be effective moving forward.” 

The proposed legislation garnered significant conversation and some pushback. Several GOP members of the committee spoke up regarding the possible impacts of the legislation on civil liberties and free speech. Others discussed their concern with the bill’s language. 

“Incidents that may not be criminal. That’s what I heard. So we’re going to create a mechanism for reporting incidents where no crime took place, where the defining characteristic if there is any definition at all is that somebody feels as though they were discriminated against based on actual or perceived characteristics. I’m deeply concerned about the implications of this bill. We’re going to create a database of incidents that have no objective standard determining whether or not they violated the law, whether or not they had anything distinct from normal speech. An incident of bias,” said Rep. Walter Hudson (GOP-District 30A). 

The legislation was laid over for further questioning and discussion. 

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