The Senate gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a bill that would make it easier to prosecute hate crimes in Vermont.
“We have had a hate crime statute for a while, but the genesis for the bill was the inability to have the existing statute ever come into significant play,” said Sen. Phil Baruth, D-Chittenden, who presented the bill.
The reason for that, Baruth said, is the word “maliciously.”
Vermont’s current laws require prosecutors to prove that a crime was “maliciously motivated” by a victim’s race, color, religion, national origin, sex, ancestry, age or service in the U.S. Armed Forces.
“In practice, proving that someone’s intent was malicious was notoriously difficult because we’re not built to get into the minds of other people, so finding evidence of malicious intent or motivation frustrated a number of prosecutions or attempts to apply this enhanced penalty,” Baruth told lawmakers.
The Senate Committee on Judiciary heard testimony from the Attorney General’s Office, the ACLU and others about the bill. It ultimately decided to amend the legislation to give courts and judges greater guidance on how to use the statute, by stating that any person who commits a crime, whose conduct is motivated “in whole or in part” by a victim’s actual or perceived identity, can be charged with a hate crime penalty.
The bill also adds the National Guard to the list of protected classes under Vermont law.
And finally, Baruth said the committee “added suspenders to the belt” by adding a line to the bill saying that a victim’s identity need not be the predominant reason or the sole reason for their conduct.
The Senate will take up the bill for a final vote tomorrow.
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