ANNAPOLIS — Legislation creating civil actions for hate crimes took a significant step forward Wednesday in the House of Delegates.
Republicans opposing the bill called the effort political correctness run amok and an extension of “cancel culture.” Democrats, however, who make up a super majority of the chamber carried the day for a bill that passed unanimously in the Senate.
“What we’re trying to do, again, is give victims additional redress,” said Del. Charlotte Crutchfield, D-Montgomery and sponsor of the House version of the bill. “You can have someone who is prosecuted for a hate crime but also what we want to do for the victims is something else and that is provide them with damages for something that is a hate crime.”
Wednesday’s vote now sends both the Senate and House versions of the bill to the Senate. That chamber can either concur with amendments made to the bill it passed in February or work out differences in a conference committee before the final gavel closes out the session on Monday night.
Hate crimes attach to criminal acts such as assault, harassment, destruction of property, arson and murder when the crime is motivated because a person is homeless, or because if an individual’s race, color, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity, disability or national origin.
The bills passed by the House provide civil remedies for those acts.
“I know this bill was brought with the best of intentions, but this is not just a bill of words or of actions,” said Del. Trent Kittleman, R-Howard. “Hate crimes are in essence thought crimes. If a white person hits a black person, there is a presumption that it is a hate crime. You all are in the majority now and your opinions have a great deal of weight.”
House Speaker Adrienne Jones stopped Kittleman.
“Can you explain who the ‘you all’ is in the majority? Who’s a ‘you all?’” asked Jones.
Kittleman said she was referencing the Democrats, who hold a majority in the legislature.
The penalty and potential civil remedy also attaches to the use of symbols such as a swastika or noose.
“This is just political correctness going amok,” said Del. Rick Impallaria, R-Baltimore and Harford counties. “Putting people in jeopardy. Putting fear, like the person said, using a Nazi symbol to threaten somebody — holding up a symbol doesn’t threaten me.”
A number of Republicans said the bill creates thought crimes.
“You don’t get in trouble because of your thoughts” said Neil Parrott, R-Washington. “You get in trouble because you said it out loud or you wrote it or preached about it.”
Others said it will limit free speech.
“I’m extremely skeptical of this bill,” said Del. Matt Morgan, R-St. Mary’s, who voted against the measure. “We have freedom of speech in this country and this bill looks at a way to almost silence any type of opposition against that freedom of speech.”
The civil remedy does not require a person who is being sued to have been convicted of a crime in which the hate crime penalties attached.
Del. Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery and House majority leader, said the bill provides “a civil remedy for something that isn’t always prosecutable under the criminal law.”
Republicans maintained that the bill goes too far and is open to being abused.
“Hate crimes are atrocious and disgusting and there should be a low tolerance for that kind of behavior in our state, but this bill does not have appropriate guardrails,” said Del. Lauren Arikan, R-Baltimore and Harford counties. “The required amount of evidentiary certainty for a civil case is lower than it is in a criminal case.”
Supporters of the bill maintain that the civil remedies are focused on physical acts.
“We’re talking about not thoughts but actual actions — hate actions,” said Del. Wanika Fisher, D-Prince George’s.
“It can’t just be someone saying something to you,” Fisher said.