AG Healey: Times call for overhaul of hate crime laws

The physical assault of a 65-year-old Asian American woman captured on video in Manhattan earlier this week is the latest high-profile example of rising anti-Asian violence that should prompt an overhaul of the Massachusetts hate crime statute, Attorney General Maura Healey and lawmakers said Wednesday.

On the day that a suspect in the Monday assault was reportedly charged with two counts of assault as a hate crime, Healey cited the incident during a virtual event calling for passage of legislation she and other supporters said would help law enforcement in the Bay State more forcefully prosecute similar offenses.

“Based on our work, we know that our laws do not meet the moment, and that’s what this hate crimes legislation is seeking to achieve: giving us the tools to allow us to rid our communities of the kind of pernicious hate we see and to hold those accountable who need to be held accountable,” Healey said.

The overhaul proposal Healey backed alongside Rep. Tram Nguyen and Sen. Adam Hinds (HD 1653 / SD 972) has been in the spotlight for weeks amid a growing wave of violence and harassment directed at Asian-American communities during the pandemic.

It would combine civil rights and hate crimes statutes into one section of law, codify several definitions the attorney general’s office says are critical to prosecuting hate crimes, impose stricter maximum sentences on more severe offenses, strengthen penalties for repeat offenders, and add gender and immigration status as protected classes.

The bills still have not been assigned to a legislative committee for review or had a hearing scheduled. Hinds said during the Wednesday event with Healey that it is still “early” in the 2021-2022 lawmaking session and noted that legislative leaders still have not agreed to a package of joint rules governing committee operations.

“We certainly will be pushing for an expedited consideration, including moving a quick hearing, so we’re working on that now,” Hinds said.

(Copyright (c) 2021 State House News Service.