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Recent hate crimes prompt state lawmakers to consider tougher laws

Temple De Hirsch Sinai, a synagogue on Capitol Hill, has been vandalized with anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denying graffiti March 10, 2017. (Photo: KOMO News)

OLYMPIA. Wash. - There is a new sense of urgency to possibly toughen the state's laws against hate crimes following the recent rash of incidents.

There are already laws to deal with hate crimes, but state lawmakers want to know if they need to do more.

In just the last month, a member of the Sikh community in Kent was reportedly shot and wounded. The perpetrator allegedly said, "go back to your own country."

A few days later Temple De Hirsch Sinai on Seattle's Capitol Hill was vandalized with hateful graffiti.

"I think we have atmosphere in this country of fear and incrimination. It's very unfortunate," said Rep. Roger Goodman, (D-Kirkland).

As chair of the Public Safety committee, Goodman feels public safety is being threatened with the recent spate of suspected hate crimes and brought several groups together to see what, if anything, the legislature needs to do about it.

"I think we need to calm it down to the point where now we have crimes being committed against people because people feel like they have a license to commit those crimes and I think that's unfortunate," said Goodman.

"As we know hate crime is on the rise," said Sarah Brown of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

She told lawmakers that Washington stacks up well with other states by being one of the first to pass a state hate crime law that covers crimes against people who have immutable characteristics such as skin color, ethnic background and sexual preference.

Now the question is should protections be extended to other groups such as police, which a few other states have done. The state senate just passed such a bill (SB 5280).

"I think you can expect to see more law enforcement protective measures introduced." said Brown. "I think we're also seeing the issue of more protection for homeless."

The question is whether to pass tougher laws or toughen the penalties of current laws. There's a sense of urgency before matters get worse.

"I've been doing this work for a long time and I'm sad to say this is, by far, the most troubling time that I've seen in terms of not just vitriol, but in terms of actual incidents and crimes," Michelle Deutchman of the Anti-Defamation League told the committee.

"We passed a bill (HB 2029) over to the senate last week creating a hotline (and website) to the Human Rights Commission so people have access to at least build that database where there are continued harassment or complaints about individuals within a community," said House majority leader Rep. Pat Sullivan, (D-Covington).

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