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State Senate panel approves bias crime bill

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A Minnesota Senate panel on Friday advanced legislation to toughen the penalties for some bias crimes.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the measure on a voice vote, sending it on to the Finance Committee.

Under the bill, maximum sentences would increase by 25 percent for a person convicted of felony assault based on the victim’s race, color, sex, sexual orientation, disability, age or national origin.

Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said his bill would help send a strong message.

“A crime that is motivated by bias is uniquely corrupting to our society,” Latz said. “It is an offense not only against the individual victim of the physical assault, but it’s an offense against all of the community.”

The committee heard testimony in support of the bill from Asma Jama, a Minneapolis woman who was assaulted last fall in a suburban restaurant. Jama described to stunned lawmakers how she was confronted by another woman for not speaking English.

“When I turned around to look at her, she had a beer mug in her hand and she threw across my face,” Jama said. “Then I had 17 stiches on my face.”

Still, there were questions about the appropriateness of the proposed penalty enhancement.

Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said he was uncomfortable elevating the victims of hate crimes over the victims of other crimes.

“Striking someone in the face with a beer mug and seriously injuring them because you’re angry or jealous, is that also not really a serious matter?”Newman asked. “If we’re going to enhance a penalty in one, why do we not enhance the penalty in another?”