The New Mexico legislature gave final approval Thursday to a bill that would provide extra prison time for offenders whose crimes are found by a court to have been motivated by hate. The house approved the measure on a 39-27 vote, sending it to Gov. Bill Richardson. The senate had previously passed the measure. Supporters of the bill have been seeking such a law for years, but it was twice vetoed by the previous governor, Republican Gary Johnson. Richardson has committed to signing the measure.
Supporters said the legislation is needed because of ongoing incidents of discrimination. "When a crime is committed based on one of those things--whether it be race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity--we're asking that a stiffer penalty be imposed," said Rep. Gail Beam. The bill allows a judge to give a first-time offender an extra year in prison and a second-time offender two added years.
Rep. W. Ken Martinez said hate crimes create fear, which leads to the oppression of a group of people being targeted because of their differences. The legislation, he said, sends a message that such crimes and oppression will not be tolerated in New Mexico.
Opponents of the measure called it divisive, arguing that it singles out certain groups for special treatment and flies in the face of the First Amendment. "Our law does not prosecute you for what you say or what you think. It prosecutes you for what you do," said Rep. Daniel Foley. "One of the things that has held our country different from others is, you have a right to say what you think and feel what you feel." Foley said intolerance and resulting hate crimes will be resolved through education--not legislation. "We teach our children to hate for reasons," he said. "We teach our children there's a difference between race, religion. A hate-crimes bill isn't going to stop that."
Under the bill, hate crimes are defined as those committed because of the victim's actual or perceived race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. The legislation requires that law enforcement officers get training in investigating and reporting hate crimes and that district attorneys and state, county, and city police agencies provide hate-crimes data to the FBI.