Hate Crime Legislation

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The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is a federal law amending hate crime law to include gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.

But 14 states are still without that, including West Virginia.

Representative John Ellem says there's been an increase in people being targeted for violence because of who they are.

The Mountain State's hate crime statute includes race, religion, national origin, political affiliation, but not sexual orientation.

Ellem says it's always brought up as proposed legislation but a few years have passed since they took it up with the judiciary committee.

“Once you make a category for certain individuals, where do you stop?” Ellem says. “Do you now make a category for a crime because of a person's disability or because of a person's employment status, because of the way a person dresses, because of a person's size. You know, do you put all those things in the hate crime statute?”

In his experience, Ellem says our hate crime statute is infrequently used in any circumstance.

So he questions the necessity of whether we need to have a hate crime statute at all.

Instead, he says, return to common law principles that a crime is a crime and it applies to anyone, no matter what their affiliation.

“I think with some more push in general towards laws based upon sexual orientation that you'll see more of a push for it in the future,” Ellem says. “And again, I kind of take the option C approach – do we need a hate crime statute at all?”

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