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Bill would expand hate crimes

February 08, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - In his push to broaden the state's hate crimes law, Sen. Alex X. Mooney on Wednesday showed his committee videotaped footage of youths beating up homeless people for sport.

Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, said a video known as "Bum Fights" is largely to blame for a rise in attacks on homeless people.

Mooney objected two years ago when the state's hate crimes law was expanded to include sexual orientation. The law also prohibits crimes based on race, color, religious beliefs and national origin.

Since then, he has proposed adding other classes of people.

He unsuccessfully tried last year to add past or current members of the U.S. armed forces.

In a separate bill last year, he also proposed adding homeless people. The bill passed in the Judicial Proceedings Committee, on which he serves, but narrowly failed twice on the Senate floor.

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On Wednesday, representatives from homeless advocacy groups testified in favor of his new bill before the Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Jessica Schuler, a policy analyst for the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington, D.C., said the number of attacks against the homeless is rising.

In 2005, there were 86 attacks, including 13 deaths, but the number went up 64 percent last year, she said.

"The animus against homeless people is very real," said Tulin Ozdeger, a civil rights staff attorney for the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty in Washington, D.C.

Mooney aired part of a "60 Minutes" segment on attacks against the homeless.

In the report, criminologist Brian Levin said, "It used to be gays. It used to be African-Americans. But now the vogue target, in many ways, are the homeless."

The "60 Minutes" piece showed a snippet of a "Bum Fights" DVD, in which someone dressed as a homeless person attacked a real homeless person on tape.

No one spoke against Mooney's bill.

Sen. James Brochin, D-Baltimore County, said he's planning a bill to include hate-crimes protection for transgendered people, but Mooney said they're already protected.

Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, D-Montgomery, recommended protecting the poor instead. "I don't know how you really know who's homeless and who's not," she said.

But Mooney said homelessness is defined.

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