New Jersey weighs tough hate crimes law

January 3, 2008 5:39:42 PM PST
Legislation to toughen the state's hate crime and bullying laws advanced Thursday.

It would amend an existing bias intimidation law by adding "gender identity" and "national origin" to the list of classes of people protected under the statute.

Hate crimes involve the targeting of a victim based on membership in a particular social grouping. New Jersey's current hate crime law provides protection for individuals based on "race, color, religion, gender, handicap, ethnicity and sexual orientation."

The bill also mandates two hours of anti-bias training for police officers.

And it takes a swipe at bullying. It would require school districts to amend their bullying policies, post the information on their Web sites and notify parents of its availability.

The measure would establish a commission to oversee the effectiveness of school anti-bullying programs and promote training about bullying for school administrators. The commission would collect data on bullying incidents.

"Hate crimes epitomize ignorance," agreed bill co-sponsor Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex. "They are frightening examples of how acting on stereotypes can prove to be deadly."

The legislation was approved unanimously in the full Senate. Earlier Thursday, it was forwarded from the Assembly Judiciary Committee. It is scheduled to be considered in the Assembly on Monday, the last day of the session.

Approval in the Assembly committee followed 45 minutes of debate prompted by Christian conservatives who opposed the measure.

Gregory Quinlan of New Jersey Family First identified himself as a former homosexual and said he felt discriminated against because former gays are not included as a protected class under the proposal.

However, attempts to amend the bill to include people who identify themselves as formerly gay or transgendered failed to gain support in either the Assembly or Senate.

Quinlan also called the measure "blatantly unconstitutional" and predicted it would face a federal court challenge.

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer, at one point lost patience with the persistent conservatives and a brief shouting match ensued.