Senators pass V.I.'s first hate crimes legislation


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ST. THOMAS - The 30th Legislature approved a number of bills and leases at Tuesday's session, including the territory's first hate crimes legislation.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Craig Barshinger and co-sponsored by Sen. Clarence Payne III, enhances the penalties for some existing crimes when the motivation is the victim's race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.

Called the Hate-Motivated Crimes Act of 2013, the bill lays out the following penalties:

- If the maximum penalty for the underlying crime is one year or less, the penalty for the same crime motivated by hate would be imprisonment for not more than two years or a fine of not more than $20,000.

- If the maximum penalty for the underlying crime is between one and five years, the hate crime penalty would be no more than five years or a $50,000 fine.

- If the maximum penalty for the underlying crime is more than five years, that penalty applies even if it is found to be a hate crime.

The proposed legislation does not limit hate speech, it maintains the protections of freedom of speech under the First Amendment.

Some senators felt the penalties did not go far enough, especially because most violent crimes carry a heftier sentence than five years, therefore would not be affected by the legislation.

Barshinger said he believes the territory needs to start somewhere, and the bill is a good start.

Other measures passed Tuesday will:

- Add definitions of sexual conduct and sexual contact to the territory's criminal code.

- Use the Enid Baa Library exclusively for archives and records management.

- Authorize a purchase order and payment to Betteroads Asphalt Corporation for additional work performed on a project for the V.I. National Guard. The original contract was for $239,875, and the change order was for $274,119.40. Half of the total amount is paid by the federal government.

- Ratify the first amendment to the agreement for the government's medical insurance to ensure that 180 retirees older than 65 are covered by the insurance plan.

- Establish a new fund to guarantee payment to government employees who leave government service. The bill had a number of unrelated amendments tacked on to it, including measures to clarify existing laws, split appropriations and fix a mistake on the plaque honoring former Sen. Lorraine Berry.

- Lease 46,250 square feet of land in Bovoni to Lew Henley Sewage Disposal.

- Lease 100,000 square feet in Estate Nazareth to the V.I. Tennis Association.

- Petition Congress to support a measure to extend Supplemental Security Income Benefits for V.I. residents.

- Name the Pine Peace Basketball Courts after Orville "Chopper" Brown for his service to youth on St. John.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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