Although I’m pursuing a clinical track, I found the policy class I took during Winter quarter offered a a great deal of “food for thought.” Understanding the nuances of a bill, and in particular the costs/appropriations proved an interesting exercise. I dissected a bill before the Colorado legislature that seeks to add homelessness to the current hate crimes statute. Further the bill includes additional penalties for offenders who intentionally target individuals for crimes because they are homeless. For example, a person charged with a class 3 felony for assault could also be charged with a class 4 felony for a hate-motivated crime beyond the original charge. Finally, the bill seek a 5-year appropriation averaging $84,000 a year for costs of enhanced criminal penalties.
While it’s easy to advocate for the inclusion of homeless persons within this statute, selling this to the legislature, with the knowledge that it will cost money requires much more than a passion to help, it requires the ability to ultimately “sell” your position.
So here are some stunning statstics:
- In Colorado, from 1999 to 2009, 47 acts of violence were committed against homeless persons, resulting in 22 deaths .
- Colorado was ranked 5th in the nation in the number of crimes and acts of violence against the homeless during 1999–2009, and during this period the number of deaths among homeless persons was double the number of all other hate-crime-related deaths combined.
However, those who oppose the bill suggest:
1) The definition of homeless is vague
2) Unlike the other protected groups included in current hate crime legislation, homelessness is mutable and not a characteristic/trait
3) No evidence the bill would deter crime
4) Existing laws already prosecute criminal assaults and murders, thus making the proposed legislation unnecessary and dilutes the intent of the hate crime laws.
I argued in favor of the bill indicating this was a civil rights issue. I believe the bill would:
- Recognize the homeless community as a distinct, vulnerable class
- Raise public awareness of the pervasiveness of violence targeting the homeless
- Make a clear statement to the public that targeting homeless persons is not tolerated in Colorado
Dissecting this bill was in itself very educational.