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State Sen. Rick Jones Breaks with Caucus, Co-Sponsors Hate Crimes Amendment

By |2016-07-13T09:00:00-04:00July 13th, 2016|Michigan, News|

State Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) listens as the LGBT community mourned the loss of lives n Orlando June 12. He joined the crowd of over 100 people at the steps of the Capitol. BTL photo: Todd Heywood

In the month since the Orlando massacre, much has changed for the LGBT community. Spaces once thought safe, have suddenly become guarded by men wearing side arms. Police have stepped up patrols around the bars where the community converges for recreation, social connection and safety.
It has also led to a leading state Republican senator causing a “seismic” shift in Michigan’s political landscape
State Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) has become the lead co-sponsor — along with Warren Democrat Steve Bieda — to amend the 1988 Ethnic Intimidation Act law to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Jones has been in the legislature since 2004, and has previously voted “pass” on hate crimes legislation — essentially an abstention.
But on June 12, the former Eaton County Sheriff had to face up to reality: members of the LGBT community are the targets of hate violence. This realization hit him as he watched the horror of the Orlando massacre in a gay nightclub unfold on television. He even attended an impromptu event to honor the dead of Orlando on the steps of the Capitol that evening — one hosted by the Lansing Association for Human Rights, an LGBT rights organization.
Two weeks later, the violence many in the LGBT community experience came to his front door. Two men were sentenced by Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aqualina to 17 to 55 years for a series of hook-up robberies targeting gay men in the county. During their spree, the men bound — with ropes or handcuffs — at least two victims, and beat them. Then stole the men’s electronics. They met the men through Craigslist by posing as gay men interested in a sexual liaison.
“I have not been real supportive of adding more things to the law in the past because I didn’t feel there was a big problem,” he said during an interview at a Grand Ledge eatery where he meets with seniors every weekday morning. “The shock of what happened in Orlando, and then to find out here in mid-Michigan something similar happening — a hatred — really made me think about this. And I’m sold. I’m sold on adding this to a hate crime definition.”
Jones is not alone in failing to see anti-gay violence as a problem until now. Nathan Triplett, political director at Equality Michigan, said it is not surprising Jones was unaware of the problems. He said trying to educate the media and lawmakers about bias crimes has been a “struggle.”
The Movement Advancement Project reports that 17 states and the District of Columbia have hate crimes laws which cover both sexual orientation and gender identity. Another 13 states have laws which only cover sexual orientation. Michigan is in neither category as the current law only criminalizes targeting based on a “person’s race, color, religion, gender, or national origin.”
Interestingly however, despite their not being a law to criminalize hate crimes targeting people in other at risk populations, Michigan State Police are required by law to compile an annual report of bias related crimes in the state of Michigan. Contained in those reports are local law enforcement reports on anti-gay bias. The reporting law still does not cover anti-trans bias crimes.
In 2014, the MSP report found that 60 bias crimes reported to the department were anti-gay. That was out of 532 victims and 441 incidents. In 2015, the number of victims and incidents had dropped (399 incidents and 495 victims). The MSP reports that 12 percent of the cases in 2015 were bias crimes motivated by anti-gay bias — or 61 cases.
But those numbers could be off. For example, police reports from the Lansing Police Department obtained in late June related to the Craigslist predators showed LPD officials had not identified the crimes as bias motivated. This was despite an admission by the perpetrators they were targeting gay men because they were “sick” and “not likely to report it to the police.” This changed on June 23 when it was brought to the LPD’s attention, a full six months after the incident.
“This report is still within the window to send updated information to the State of Michigan, so it will not be underreported,” wrote Lansing Police Chief Michael Yankowski in a June 23 email. “We have made the necessary adjustments to the report. However, you are correct and it should have been updated back on 11/30/2015.”
Yankowski said determining bias motivation often takes time and investigation and initial reports of crimes may not be identified as bias related until further investigation. The Michigan Incident Crime Reporting requires bias motivation be determined by “sufficient objective facts” that would “lead a reasonable and prudent person to conclude the offender’s actions were motivated, in whole or in part, by bias.”
The original Ethnic Intimidation legislation, passed in 1988, did include sexual orientation but it was removed before the final vote. In 1998, a decade later, and in the shadow of a national debate over the brutal beating death and robbery of Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard, the Michigan legislature came very close to passing legislation which would have added sexual orientation to the law. It passed the House, but died in the state Senate.
Similar legislation was taken up and considered in the House in 2008, and while it moved out of the House Judiciary Committee, it did not move in the House.
This is the first time the legislation has a potential to move in the Senate since that 1998 session. Political observers say this is in large part because Jones has broken from his caucus.
“There’s no question Sen. Jones support advances a strategy to move this forward,” said Triplett.
For his part, Jones says his move could cost him politically in the future. But he is doing it because it is the right thing to do.
The legislation won’t be officially introduced for Senate consideration until lawmakers return to session on September after their summer recess. Once it is read into the record, it is formally introduced and is then referred to a committee. This bill will be referred to the Judiciary Committee and will see a hearing sometime after the referral.

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