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The Daily Tar Heel

Vote on Hate Crimes Delayed

All non-appropriations bills must have been approved by one of the houses by last Thursday to be passed during this legislative session.

The bill, which will also include age, gender and disability hate crimes if passed, was sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Lucas, D-Durham, and Sen. Brad Miller, D-Johnston.

Miller said he hopes the bill will be considered sometime this year, but he does not feel confident about its current standing.

"I think if the vote were tomorrow, it would probably fail," he said.

Miller added that many lawmakers do not want to take a firm position touchy subjects.

"Legislators get very skittish over rights that consider gays and lesbians," he said.

Miller said the bill has received the most organized opposition from right-wing religious groups.

But it has found strong support in groups that advocate gay and lesbian equality.

One of the groups, Equality N.C., is fully behind the Senate bill, said Ian Palmquist, assistant director of Equality N.C. "Equality N.C. was fully active in getting it drafted," he said.

Under current hate-crime laws, harsher penalties are imposed on criminals found guilty of targeting victims based on race, religion or national origin, but not sexual orientation.

But Sen. Hamilton Horton, R-Forsyth, said he opposed the bill because it creates categories which would weaken a crime's seriousness and create unfair specifics.

"We don't want to water down the crime," he said. "There shouldn't be a concept for hate crimes."

Horton said current laws are enough to protect people from hate crimes.

But Palmquist said animosity toward gays and lesbians is a sizable problem in the state.

"We don't have high profile hate crimes like what happened to (Matthew) Shepard in Wyoming, but it is a problem," he said.

The bill, also called the Matthew Shepard Memorial Act, was named after a gay college student who was tied to a fence, beaten and left to die. He died five days later from severe injuries.

Shepard's death sparked nationwide demand for the reform of hate crime laws.

Palmquist said the legislation is necessary because many gays and lesbians are afraid to report hate crimes to the police.

"This bill sends a message to law enforcement to make sure they are taking hate crimes seriously," he added.

The State & National Editor can be reached at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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