Bills to expand hate crimes law die at Mississippi Capitol

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JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi this year will not expand its hate crimes law to allow stronger criminal penalties for crimes against additional groups.

Advocates asked legislators include crimes targeting people because of sexual orientation, gender identity or disability under the law.

House Bill 1494 and Senate Bill 2163 died under a Tuesday deadline in legislative committees.

Mississippi’s current hate crimes law allows prosecutors to seek stronger penalties against a person charged with committing a crime against someone because of the victim’s actual or perceived race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, national origin or gender.

Rob Hill is Mississippi director of LGBTQ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign. He said Monday that no American “should be targeted for who they are.”

He said the bills would make Mississippi’s hate crimes law match the federal law and would give state prosecutors more options to pursue cases.

Federal statistics show more than 7,000 hate crimes were reported in the U.S. in 2017, and about 60 percent of those were crimes motivated by a victim’s race or ethnicity, 22 percent were prompted by religious bias and about 16 percent were because of bias about a person’s sexual orientation.

The federal numbers show 1.6 percent of reported hate crimes in 2017 were because of a victim’s disability.

“There’s ample reason to believe that the rate is vastly underreported,” said Scott Crawford, a board member for Mississippi Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities.

Crawford said people with intellectual, developmental or mental health disabilities may be unable to report a crime or may fear that people will not believe them.

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