Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie

HARTFORD, CT — The Senate joined the House Tuesday in passing legislation that supporters claim will give Connecticut the strongest hate crime laws in the country.

Legislators said the law is necessary to respond to the increase in hate crimes including murders, assaults, bomb threats, and vandalism that have been directed against African Americans, Hindu Americans, Hispanics, Jews, Muslims, Sikh Americans, transgender women and others both across the country and in Connecticut.

The Senate passed the measure unanimously, 36-0. It now goes to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s desk.

The bill passed the House earlier on a 146-0 vote, where legislators pointed to a series of hate crimes in Connecticut, from a swastika painted on a building in Danbury to threats directed at Jewish Community Centers in Woodbridge, West Hartford, and Stamford.

The bill, among other things, would toughen penalties for threats to, or desecration of, houses of worship and other religious facilities.

“We will punish hate crimes appropriately and will have the strongest hate crimes law in the nation,” Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said at a press conference on Tuesday, hours before the vote in the Senate was taken.

Looney added: “When a bomb threat is made against a religious community center or a religious cemetery is desecrated, or a mosque is vandalized, or women and the LBGT communities are specifically targeted, that is a crime that affects not just the members of the building and cemetery threatened or vandalized, but all members of the protected group throughout our society.

“Passing this bill will make Connecticut the national leader in the fight against these despicable acts,” Looney said.

Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, pointed to the bipartisan effort to pass the legislation.

“I thank all the lawmakers and advocates who came here today to stand in unity against bigotry and prejudice,” Fasano said. “Together, in partnership with one another, we have the ability to pass legislation and send a strong message that Connecticut will protect all people, of all races, of all religions, of all ethnicities, of all sexual orientations and of all genders against hate,” Fasano said.

The legislation initially had a bit of a rocky path as some Republicans felt it was being tied too closely to the election of President Donald Trump.

But eventually there was a bipartisan effort to get the bill passed.

The bill originated in the Judiciary Committee. Sen Paul Doyle, D-Wethersfield, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, said: “Strengthening our hate crime laws to adequately punish the individuals who commit these horrific crimes also sends a clear message to others that these types of cowardly acts will not be tolerated and the punishment will fit the crime.”

“It is the best piece of legislation we’ve passed this year,” Doyle said.

Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, added: “I think this bill sends a clear message that as policymakers we will not tolerate threats or intimidation based on hate.”
The bill is needed, legislators said, because of the drastic increase in hate crimes.

The legislation makes hate crimes a felony instead of a misdemeanor and adds gender to the list of hate crime definitions. Current law protects only “gender identity or expression.

The bill also:

• Increases from a Class D to a Class C felony the making of a bomb threat or other threats of violence against a house of worship or religious institution, or daycare facility;

• Increases mandatory minimum fines for those convicted of hates crimes;

• Creates a statewide Hate Crimes Advisory Council, and;

• Allows a court to order extensive community service for someone convicted of a hate crime.

“Across the United States, over the course of the last year, we have witnessed a disturbing spike in hate crimes, Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said. “Strengthening this law will ensure that, here in Connecticut, we will punish those who target communities based on race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.”

Steve Ginsburg, regional director of the ADL-Connecticut region, also lauded the bill.

“On behalf of the Anti-Defamation League leadership and supporters in Connecticut and across the nation, I wish to express profound gratitude to the Connecticut legislature,” Ginsburg said.

Ginsburg said the ADL closely tracks hate crimes in the state and that incidents of reported hate crimes “went up 68 percent from 2015 to 2016.”

He said the trend of increasing hate crimes has continued into 2017.

“Our state already had relatively strong hate crimes protections, but today our leaders made clear that when incidents of bias and hate are on the rise, good enough isn’t good enough,” Ginsburg said.

“Protecting community centers, including gender as a protected category, and enhancing penalties makes all Connecticut residents and their communities safer and sets a proud example for our children,” Ginsburg added.