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Md. hate crimes bill would protect homeless

Hagerstown man testifies in favor of legislation

Hagerstown man testifies in favor of legislation

February 14, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - A homeless Hagerstown man testified in Annapolis on Wednesday in favor of a bill to expand hate-crimes protection to the homeless.

James Devine said he lives in his van and is frequently harassed. He has had beer cans and rocks thrown at his vehicle and someone hit it with a hammer, he said. Other times, even though he parks in a secluded area, people race by and blow their horns, he said.

He said people treat the homeless with an attitude of "you're different, you're strange, we don't like you."

Other advocates for the bill cited horrifying examples: Homeless people being killed, and in gruesome ways.

One homeless person was doused with gasoline and set on fire, another was beaten to death with a tire iron and another was beheaded, Del. Susan K. McComas said.

McComas, R-Harford, is the House sponsor of the hate crimes bill. Its Senate sponsor is Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington.

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Mooney has filed the bill twice before.

In 2005, it narrowly failed on the floor of the Senate. Last year, it passed the Senate, but failed in a House committee.

Mooney previously objected when the hate-crimes statute was broadened to included sexual orientation.

Instead, in recent years, he has tried to expand the statute in different ways, by suggesting other classes of people.

This year, Mooney said he thinks his hate-crimes proposal to protect the homeless had a better chance of success because it has a House sponsor.

Devine also testified in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Jan. 30 when Mooney's bill was heard.

During a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, McComas showed a clip of a televised news segment describing how people have attacked the homeless and filmed the attacks.

One pundit in the clip called the homeless "the new target."

"They are assaulted and they are abused," said Antonia K. Fasanelli, the executive director of the Homeless Persons Representation Project in Baltimore.

She said 20 hate-crime deaths against the homeless were recorded in 2006.

Last year, the number grew to more than 30, she said.




To see the House version of the hate-crimes bills:

http://mlis.state.md.us/2008RS/billfile/hb0528.htm

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