Legislators in Michigan Will Put Out Revised Hate Crime Legislation for the First Time in 35 Years

For the first time in 35 years, a group of Michigan legislators is attempting to revise the state’s hate crime statutes. This week in Lansing, lawmakers plan to present the Hate Crime and Institutional Desecration Act. The chapel at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield provides a safe haven for many Jews in the greater Detroit area, but unfortunately, attacks on religious institutions are on the rise.

Temple Israel’s executive director, Jason Plotkin, has remarked, “Every morning literally, we get communication about other synagogues, other houses of worship that have had their synagogue desecrated or a threat in the community,” According to Plotkin, three Michigan legislators are trying to address the issue of threats and damage against houses of worship.

“It was no question that this was why I was running. This was going to be at the top of the agenda,” state Rep. Noah Arbit, D-West Bloomfield, said. “Fighting against hate and extremism and political violence is really why I ran.” The Michigan Hate Crime and Institutional Desecration Act, sponsored by Arbit and state representatives Kristian Grant (D-Grand Rapids) and Ranjeev Puri (D-Canton Township), will be introduced this week.

Michigan Lawmakers to Propose Updated Hate Crime (1)
Michigan Lawmakers to Propose Updated Hate Crime (1)

It would also make existing laws against hate crimes more effective. “The burden of proof, the threshold to proving a crime of bias in court is very substantial, but the penalties are so weak that prosecutors often don’t want to use it,” Arbit said. The statute against hate crimes has not been revised since its first passage in 1988.

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The new four-bill package would extend protections for persons based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

“This legislation again just sends a strong message and provides our prosecutors another tool to make sure these crimes are being responded heavy handed and in an appropriate manner that they deserve,” Puri said.

As a Sikh American, the legislation is also personal to Puri. In 2012, a white supremacist slaughtered seven people at the Wisconsin synagogue where he and his family once worshiped. “It’s vital that we stand up and take serious action,” Puri said.

“I’m very hopeful for legislation where people don’t have to be victimized twice, when the actual atrocity happens and then when they go to a court to make sure it doesn’t happen to others,” Grant said. The three representatives hope to introduce the bill this week, and they anticipate that committee hearings will begin within the next few months.

There is already some support for the proposals in the community, but MPs’ approval ratings are still unknown. “Anything that can be a deterrent to these kind of crimes, these kind of acts, whether it’s a synagogue, a mosque, or any other house of worship, takes us a step further,” Plotkin said.

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