Senator Tina Polsky (Boca Raton) and Representative Emily Slosberg (Boca Raton) filed Senate Bill 1208 and House Bill 883, respectively, on Monday to update Florida statutes addressing hate crimes by allowing government, public, and private organizations to be classified as victims of crimes motivated by race, ethnicity, religion, or disability.
“When acts of hate are perpetrated against individuals, we pursue and reprimand those responsible in order to serve justice and reaffirm the human dignity of the victims,” said Polsky. “When acts of hate are perpetrated against public property or government entities, we must do the same. This legislation allows law enforcement officials to seek full and appropriate redress for expressions of hate which have no place in Florida.”
The bills aim to amend a present loophole in state law that allows defendants to avoid hate crime charges despite their actions being motivated by the qualifications of a hate crime. If passed, it will provide prosecutors the tools they need to hold accountable those who harm organizations or governmental centers.
“To further unity and acceptance in the community, we need to deter crimes, particularly those that show bias,” Slosberg said. “This legislation goes a long way towards that end.”
According to the text of the bill, the parameters to be included as a victim of a hate crime would expand to include a public or private organization that owns property that is defaced, damaged, or destroyed based upon the perpetrator’s prejudice against a person or a group within a class.
Such buildings or locations that fall under these pretenses are religious centers like churches and temples, governmental buildings, and statues or monuments.
The bills would also reclassify the severity of crimes committed against organizations, elevating a felony of the third degree to one of the second degree, a felony of the second degree to a first degree charge, and a first degree felony into a life sentence.
The complimentary bills will be introduced in the forthcoming January state legislative session, and if passed through both the House and Senate, would go into effect on October 1, 2022.
In 2020, the United States Department of Justice registered 109 known and tried cases of hate crime in Florida. Of them, 84 were crimes against a person, with 28 conducted against property, a majority of them victimizing churches, Jewish temples, mosques, and Hindu temples across the state.