Minnesota bias crime push could come up short

Asma Jama was sitting at a Coon Rapids Applebee’s on Friday, Oct. 30, 2015, when a fellow diner confronted her for not speaking English. When Jama, who speaks three languages, responded, the woman smashed a glass beer mug across her face. Jama sustained cuts across her face and a deep gash on her lip that required 17 stitches.  Photo courtesy of Asma Jama

Enhanced penalties for people found to have committed assaults motivated by bias are in doubt despite passing in nearly identical fashion in the Minnesota House and Senate.

The Democratic-led Senate approved a standalone bill and the Republican-led House attached their version to a budget bill central to end-of-session negotiations.

The two versions differ by one word: Religion.

Here’s the Senate version:

A person who violates section 609.221, 609.222, or 609.223 because of the victim’s
or another person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation,
disability as defined in section 363A.03, age, or national origin is subject to a statutory
maximum penalty of 25 percent longer than the maximum penalty otherwise applicable.

EFFECTIVE DATE.

This section is effective August 1, 2016, and applies to crimes
committed on or after that date.

 

And the one adopted by the House:

A person who violates section 609.221, 609.222, or 609.223 because of the victim’s
or another person’s actual or perceived race, color, sex, sexual orientation, disability as
defined in section 363A.03, age, or national origin is subject to a statutory maximum
penalty of 25 percent longer than the maximum penalty otherwise applicable.

EFFECTIVE DATE.

This section is effective August 1, 2016, and applies to crimes
committed on or after that date.

The push for a new bias penalty was spurred on by a violent assault of a Minneapolis woman last fall at a suburban restaurant. Asma Jama needed 17 stitches after having a beer mug smashed across her face by a woman who chided her for not speaking English.

Jama’s situation was highlighted in Gov. Mark Dayton’s State of the State address, drawing an emotional standing ovation from the Legislature.

A bill by Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, passed by a 40-19 vote earlier this month. Last month, the House approved its measure 76-52 as an amendment to its supplemental budget bill.

Latz said he believed there wouldn’t be any further controversy because of the strong votes on almost mirror provisions. But he said he’s grown concerned because it wasn’t adopted when budget negotiators moved to address “same or similar” provisions that have been passed by both chambers.

“It’s pretty surprising to me that the House is basically refusing to accept their own provision,” Latz said, adding, “It signals that the Legislature does not take seriously the significance of bias-motivated assaults.”

Not so fast, said Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud and the House’s top budget negotiator.

“The language on the bias crime that passed the house is different than the bias crime that passed the Senate,” Knoblach said.

He said the conference committee hasn’t had a conversation about the topic yet and didn’t rule out doing so. Knoblach said he has personal reservations about the enhanced penalty, which he voted against.

“I believe in equal justice under law, just like it says on the U.S. Supreme Court. Sometimes people are discriminated against, and that’s a problem in our society,” Knoblach said. “But I don’t think we should be handing out especially higher penalties for some crimes just based on it being a protected class.”

Other lawmakers have expressed hesitation about elevating the victims of hate crimes over the victims of other crimes.

There’s another factor at play as well.

Democrats, particularly in the Senate, have complained about the amount of pure policy provisions being included in budget discussions. They have sought to have them stripped out.

Dayton has issued a list of policy measures he has said would be unacceptable to him, such as restrictions on abortion or fetal tissue research.

So the bias crime provision could get left aside if Republicans are forced to move ahead without their preferred policy changes as part of a final deal.

  • Ralphy

    I would have thought the Republicans would have embraced the religious bias provision. It would provide another layer of protection for crimes motivated by the victims’ Christianity.
    Go figure.

    • Karen Sandstrom

      The religious right is usually wrong & violently wrong. Look at the Taliban. Look at the violent NRA gun fanatics & their right wing supporters who take away voting rights. There is very little God in their faith of bigotry, xenophobia & sexism. I’m not talking about law abiding hunters & people who fish. Where would the enviornmental movement be without them?

      • Ralphy

        Agreed. And they are usually quick to play the “victim” card. Hence, my comment.

      • Martin Kiley

        How are NRA 2nd amendment advocates violent? Can you give me an example, please?

        • Karen Sandstrom

          They are like drug pushers. They excuse, & even advocate for killing. The tobacco industry, heroin pushers & gun advocates sell their products that cause death to make money. Now they have endorsed Donald Trump. Trump is a racist, sexist xenophobic candidate who has been endorced by the NRA. I’m sure not all NRA supporters are horrible anti Christ haters, but look at the company they keep. Again, I am not talking about honorable & law abiding hunters & people who fish. Those people are helping to make sure our children have a liveable world. If ducks can’t live neither can we. Sorry if typos…

    • Martin Kiley

      All people should be treated equal. Not get special treatant. That is the opposite of equality.

      • Karen Sandstrom

        I agree with you. We both support this bill.