Democrats Aim to Increase Penalties for Hate Crimes

General Assembly Democrats want to drastically increase criminal penalties for hate crimes, and feel it necessary with increases in religious based discrimination to make it happen by the end of the 2017 regular session.

“What we’re trying to do is say, in Connecticut, these behaviors are unacceptable," said Sen. Beth Bye.

Sen. Martin Looney, the President Pro Tem of the split State Senate, said there have been numerous "dog whistle," kinds of comments made by then-candidate and now-President Donald Trump which led to the proposal.

Since January, there have been two bomb threats made on the Jewish Community Center in West Hartford, miles from the State Capitol.

“When a bomb threat is made against a religious center or a religious cemetery is desecrated, or a Mosque is vandalized, or individuals in the LGBT community are specifically targeted, that is a crime that affects not just the individuals in the building, the cemetery, but all members of the protected groups around our society," Looney said during a press conference in the Legislative Office Building.

The most noticeable change would be to increase the classification of hate crimes from misdemeanors to felonies, which would increase possible penalties. Further, Looney's proposal, which is expected to be heard next week in the Judiciary Committee, would also allow courts discretion to assign community service or other penalties as fines.

Rep. William Tong, who chairs the committee, said the state needs to send a message that things like bomb threat to Jewish Community Centers won't be tolerated.

“This is just not acceptable and we’re going to bring the full weight of the law down on you if you do this.”

Republicans were not invited to the press conference, which is notable because of a power-sharing agreement in the evenly split State Senate.

Sen. Len Fasano, the Republican President Pro Tem, wrote in a statement, “The best way to combat hate is to show unity." He added, "Instead of working with Republicans to show a united front against hate crimes in our state, Democrats chose political theater."

Fasano described the issue itself as a, "certainly bipartisan issue," but declined to comment on the specifics of Looney's proposal.

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