Saturday, April 1, 2023

General Assembly Advances Attorney General Herring’s Hate Crime Legislation

The House of Delegates and Senate of Virginia have each passed Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s package of legislation to address the frightening rise in hate crimes and white supremacist violence.

Attorney General Herring has introduced this legislation for the past few years in order to better protect Virginians from hate crimes and white supremacist violence, but Republican-controlled committees repeatedly blocked his efforts, sometimes without even giving the bills a hearing. The bills will update the Commonwealth’s definition of a hate crime, protect Virginians from violence and intimidation by hate groups and white supremacists, and make it harder for hate groups and white supremacists to threaten, intimidate, or hurt Virginians with firearms. 

“Hate crimes and white-supremacist violence strike at the heart of communities and try to force entire groups of Virginians to live in fear and remove themselves from public life, or compromise their identity,” said Attorney General Herring. “These crimes inflict damage on the very fabric of our communities themselves. This ideology is corrosive, and pernicious. When it festers it undermines the belief in the pluralistic society we treasure. “After years of frustration and obstruction in the General Assembly, it is really gratifying to finally see movement on this issue. It is so important to make sure that communities around Virginia who are feeling vulnerable know that their state and their elected officials stand with them, ready to protect their families and their fundamental rights. Every Virginian has the right to feel safe and welcome here in the Commonwealth, and this General Assembly session we are sending a clear message that hate and white supremacist violence will not be tolerated, nor will any Virginian be singled out for violence or discrimination because of who they are, how they worship, or whom they love. “I want to thank all of my legislative partners for their continued help and support over the years in fighting to get these important measures passed – Virginia is now a safer, more inclusive place because of our tireless work.”  

Attorney General Herring and his team worked with stakeholders from across the Commonwealth to develop legislation that will update hate crime laws and clearly define what constitutes a hate crime in Virginia, and allow localities to decide whether firearms are permitted at events. The bills in Attorney General Herring’s hate crimes and white supremacist violence legislative package that passed are: 

  • Updating Virginia’s definition of “hate crime”: This bill will create protections against hate crimes committed on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. (Delegate Ken Plum; Passed the House of Delegates 56-43 on February 11.)
  • Empowering the Attorney General to prosecute hate crimes: This bill will allow the Attorney General to prosecute hate crimes through the Commonwealth’s network of multijurisdictional grand juries. (Delegate Lamont Bagby; Passed the House of Delegates 55-44 on February 6.)
  • Prohibiting Paramilitary Activity: This bill will further restrict the kind of paramilitary activity by white supremacist militias and similar groups that was seen in Charlottesville in August 2017. (Senator Louise Lucas; Passed the Senate 21-19 on February 6.)
  • Firearms at Permitted Events: This bill authorizes communities to ban firearms in a public space during a permitted event, or an event that would otherwise require a permit. (Senator Scott Surovell; Passed the Senate 21-19 on January 16.)
  • Keeping guns away from those convicted of hate crimes. Attorney General Herring and Del. Rip Sullivan introduced a bill to close a loophole and ensure that anyone convicted of a hate crime is barred from possessing a gun. The key provisions of the bill were incorporated into and passed 52-47 on February 11 as part of HB1288 from Del. Kathleen Murphy.

A recently released report from the Virginia State Police shows that over the last 6 years, hate crimes in Virginia have risen by about 31 percent. Last year there were a total of 161 hate crimes in the state, including 97 racially-motivated crimes, 25 crimes based on religion, and 23 crimes based on sexual orientation bias.  The FBI’s annual Hate Crimes Statistics report showed that, in 2018, there were 8,496 hate crime offenses committed, including 5,566 against persons and 2,641 against property. Additionally, 7,036 single-bias incidents were reported, including 57.5 percent racially motivated incidents, 20.2 percent motivated by religious affiliation, and 17 percent motivated by sexual orientation bias.  Last year, Attorney General Herring traveled around the state to hear from different communities, faith leaders, and community members about how they have been affected by the hate crimes and hateful rhetoric seen in Virginia and the country. He held a series of roundtable discussions in Leesburg, Alexandria, Richmond, Charlottesville, Norfolk and Roanoke to hear about the first-hand experiences of vulnerable communities and to discuss ways to help them feel more protected.  For years Attorney General Herring has been raising awareness of the threat of white supremacist violence and proposing new laws to keep Virginians safe. Attorney General Herring’s proposed bills would update the Commonwealth’s hate crime and domestic terrorism laws, protect Virginians from violence and intimidation by hate groups and white supremacists, and make it harder for hate groups and white supremacists to threaten, intimidate, or hurt Virginians with firearms. In addition to his legislative proposals, Attorney General Herring launched to give vulnerable communities more information and resources to protect themselves from hate crimes and white supremacist violence.

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