HARTFORD — The House unanimously passed a bill Tuesday to toughen the state’s hate crime law and expand its protections.
It now awaits action in the Senate.
The legislation comes after a series of high-profile hate crimes, both in Connecticut and nationally, late last year and earlier this year.
“Unfortunately we have stories of real facts and situations that have taken place throughout the state of Connecticut,” Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, said during a brief debate. “I think this is certainly responsive to that.”
Among other changes, the bill would raise the offense of intimidation based on bigotry or bias to a Class E felony. The offense is currently a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail.
It would toughen penalties for threats to or desecration of houses of worship and other religious facilities.
The change comes in response to several incidents in the state, including when shots were fired at a Meriden mosque after the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks. Bomb threats were also called to Jewish Community Centers in Connecticut and around the country earlier this year.
The bill would also require minimum fines for certain offenses, including deprivation of rights, desecration of property and cross burning, and allows judges to mandate participation in certain programs as a condition of pretrial release or probation.
The bill easily cleared the Judiciary Committee earlier this session, but picked up votes Tuesday from Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, the sole opponent at the committee level, and Rep. Robert Sampson, R-Wolcott, who previously abstained from voting in committee.
Sampson said back in early April that he decided to abstain after receiving the proposal shortly before the Judiciary Committee’s vote, adding he didn’t have time to sufficiently review it.
Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, Judiciary Committee co-chairman and a lead proponent of the bill, said it “feels great” to see the bill get unanimous support.
“It shows that on a bipartisan basis that the committee this year came together to pass this bill,” he said.
The bill was briefly the source of a spate between Senate leaders after Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, called it “disappointing” that members of his party were excluded from a March press conference to tout the bill.
Senate Democrats initially questioned whether the issue was a priority for Republicans, but the bill itself has so far seen little opposition.
Republicans did offer an amendment that, among other things, removed language that would have created a designated hotline for residents to contact the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection. The Office of Fiscal Analysis had estimated it would cost $232,000 annually, in salary and benefits, assuming the agency would need to hire three staff members to monitor the hotline daily.
Tong said the amendment didn’t affect “the heart of the bill, which is the strengthened penalties for bias crimes.”
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