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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, June 14, 2001

Hirono signs state's first hate-crime law

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

To the dozens of people who watched Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono sign the hate crimes bill, the new law is more than just harsher penalties for hate crime offenders.

"It's one larger step for equality," said Tracy LaGondino, a supporter of Senate Bill 951, signed yesterday. "It's sending a message to the community that hatred combined with violence will not be tolerated."

Hawai'i was one of a minority of states that did not have hate crime laws on the books and was one of four that did not participate in the federal hate crimes data reporting program. The new law also provides a reporting mechanism to compile, track and analyze hate crimes data.

"This is a measure that's taken a decade to bring to this point, starting in the early 1990s when (former) Sen. Randall Iwase, (former) Rep. Annelle Amaral and I introduced the first hate crimes bill in the Legislature," Hirono said.

The lieutenant governor signed the bill in place of Gov. Ben Cayetano, who left Hawai'i yesterday for San Diego to help promote Hawaiian Airlines' new flights between Honolulu and San Diego.

Opponents of the controversial new law — which establishes tougher penalties for offenders who pick their victims based on hatred for a particular race, religion, disability, national origin, ethnicity or sexual orientation — have said it unfairly gives certain people more protection over others. They also said it will put the judicial system in the difficult position of determining the criminal's state of mind when the crime was committed. Supporters disagree and say protecting minorities from hate crimes is essential. One supporter, Nancy Gillespie, said she has been assaulted in front of gay bars.

"There are a lot of people that just stand out there and wait to beat you up," she said.

Gillespie was beaten up in Waikiki by a group of people four years ago, she said. Her attackers kicked her in the head and dragged her down the street before police arrived.

The law would impose penalties of up to life in prison for Class A felonies classified as hate crimes, which are otherwise punishable by up to 20 years in prison. It would impose penalties of up to 20 years for Class B and up to 10 years for Class C felonies, which are punishable now by up to 10 years and up to five years, respectively.