HARTFORD, CT — A group of Democratic lawmakers said Thursday that hate has no place in Connecticut and it’s necessary to pass legislation that strengthens hate crime laws.
But they failed to invite their Republican colleagues to a press conference to promote the legislation.
Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said the best way to combat hate would have been to show unity in the fight against it.
“Connecticut Democrats from the beginning chose to turn a certainly bipartisan issue into a completely partisan press conference today,” Fasano said. “Instead of working with Republicans to show a united front against hate crimes in our state, Democrats chose political theater. Instead of making today about standing together, Democrats made it about standing apart. Divisiveness cannot fight hate.”
At a Legislative Office Building press conference Thursday, Democrats touted a House bill that would increase the penalty for a hate crimes against a group of persons from a misdemeanor to a felony. It also adds hate crimes based on gender. Current law only protects “gender identity or expression” and not gender.
It also strengthens the penalty for desecrating any house of worship or any religious cemetery from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class C felony if there is more than $10,000 in damage. If the damage is less than $10,000 it would be a Class D felony.
It establishes a mandatory minimum fine of $1,000 for individuals convicted of hate crimes and requires the money to be deposited in a fund for anti-hate crime education initiatives.
“The alarming surge in hate crimes needs to be met with a strong and clear response,” Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said. “We will have zero tolerance and we will punish these crimes here in Connecticut.”
The campaign and election of President Donald Trump was a turning point, according to Democratic lawmakers, who say anecdotally hate crimes have increased due in part to the president’s sanctioning of this type of behavior.
Looney said people who were looking to proceed in a certain way believe they now have permission.
Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics show that there were 95 hate-related incidents reported to Connecticut law enforcement agencies in 2015 and 66 percent were based on race, ethnicity or ancestry of the victim.
Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, said every can identify hate because everyone has seen it.
“The way that we fight that is by standing here together to be united and to recognize that we are strong and we stand as one,” Slossberg said. “And that we stand with one voice to say hate has no home in Connecticut and this legislation says we mean it.”
Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, said the swastikas in Danbury, the threats on Jewish Community Centers in Woodbridge and West Hartford, and “for us in Stamford it really was crystallized by the spray painting of the word Nigger on a garage door.”
Tong said when he was growing up they lived with the story of Vincent Chin , the Chinese American raised in Detroit, who was beaten with a baseball bat by two autoworkers who blamed him for layoffs in the auto industry.
Just a couple weeks ago in Kansas, two Indian engineers were drinking at a local bar when both were shot and one was killed. It’s being investigated as a hate crime.
Tong also pointed out it’s the 75th anniversary of the internment of 100,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps.
“It is a sober reminder that our country unfortunately has a tragic experience with hate,” Tong said. “Which of course was started with this country’s tragic experience with slavery.”
Tong said the legislation pulls all those experiences together and reminds them why “legislation like this is important.” He said he hopes they can all come together to strengthen the law.
He said they’re concerned about the “mainstreaming of hate.”
The bill will get a public hearing next week in the Judiciary Committee.
Adam Joseph, a spokesman for the Senate Democratic caucus, said if Republicans are serious and vote for the bill then they can celebrate its passage together.
Until then, “it’s hard to know where the Connecticut Republicans stand on hate crimes when they are the same party that voted against removing firearms from dangerous domestic abusers and have introduced bills stripping sanctuary cities of education funding, mandating women undergo transvaginal ultrasounds and striping poor kids of their health insurance.”
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said after holding a highly partisan press conference, Democrats decided to distort the Republicans views on a variety of topics.
“The absurd references and manufactured issues they offered is the clearest indication that the Connecticut Democrats in Hartford have no real agenda for Connecticut residents and taxpayers,” Klarides said point to Joseph’s remarks. They desperately want to distract attention away from the mess they and their Governor have made of this great state, and instead resort to venomous dialogue that they believe tests well with the highly partisan elements of their base.”
She said she looks forward to being a vocal advocate against hate crimes.
Republican Party Chairman JR Romano said Democrats may think they’ve “cornered the market on moral outrage,” but Republicans are also against hate.
At the same time, “we should be focused on solving Connecticut’s fiscal crisis, which is hurting far greater number of residents. The poor economic conditions are impacting a large number of residents in this state.”