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Gov. Inslee signs bill allowing hate crime charges for defacing public property

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(The Center Square) – Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee has signed into law a bill that classifies certain types of public defacement as a felony if it’s perceived to be an act of “hate.”

Senate Bill 5917 amends existing state law regarding hate crimes by making them applicable to public property by altering a sentence in the existing statue so that it does not just apply to private property.

Prior, the state law regarding hate crimes defined them as when a person assaults a person or causes physical damage to their property based on the perception of the person’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression or identity, and disabilities.

The bill passed the Senate in a 35-14 vote, then in the House in a 68-27 vote.

SB 5917 was introduced by Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, in response to alleged events in October that individuals purposefully defaced public crosswalks in Spokane painted in rainbow colors to celebrate the LGTBQ community. Opponents of the bill said it’s an unnecessary response to a one-time incident in which the alleged perpetrators have not yet been arrested, charged, or convicted. Additionally, the bill changes the statue so that an act could constitute a hate crime based on the perpetrator’s perception of “another person,” rather than the victim.

In a statement following Inslee’s bill signing, Billig wrote that “our state has passed important laws to protect people targeted for what they look like, who they love, or how they pray. This legislation strengthens our hate crime laws by adding our shared public spaces and symbols of inclusion while sending a strong message of unity against these heinous attacks.”