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Is Hate Crime Legislation Set to be Expanded in Alaska?

A hate crime is any violent or negative action directed against another person because of the group in society they identify with. For example, in Alaska, it is illegal to take action against another person simply because of their ethnicity, color, creed, sex or disability. Not all states have hate crime laws, but some are more extensive than Alaska’s. Now, two state legislators have tabled a bill to expand state hate crime law so that it includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

If someone is convicted of a hate crime, it usually tends to be an add-on, i.e. an extension to another criminal charge, like assault. Conviction of a hate crime would extend a jail or prison sentence, increase a fine or the length of probation.

Sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected classes under Alaska hate crime law.

Representatives Grier Hopkins and Andy Josephson, from Fairbanks and Anchorage respectively have in part prefiled their bill in reaction to the alleged hate crime in Soldotna, last November. Gay rights activist Tammie Willis was allegedly violently attacked in her own home by someone using a knife. It has been speculated that Willis was attacked because of her sexual orientation.

Rep. Josephson said that it would only take an extra “5 words” added to existing legislation to cover the categories of hate crime the

Alaska is relatively behind other states when it comes to recognizing LGBT+ rights. The cities of Anchorage, Juneau and Sitka have already recognized the civil rights of the LGBT+ community, but this has not been extended to the state itself. Fairbanks City Council narrowly vetoed a change to its legislation in February 2019 when the mayor, Jim Matherly, voted against Ordnance No 6093.

Lack of civil rights means that even if a LGBT+ couple is legally able to get married, they may be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation if they apply for employment or housing outside of the three cities mentioned above.

Gay marriage was actually banned in Alaska back in 1998, but a change in federal legislation in 2005, the Obergefell decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, meant that the amendment was effectively cancelled.

Alaska is currently one of 17 other states in which LGBT+ rights are not enshrined in state law. That means that 32 other states, including relatively conservative states like Texas, Utah, Kansas, Kentucky and Indiana, have laws that protect the LGBT+ community that Alaska does not have.

Reps. Hopkins and Josephson point out that hate crimes directed against the LGBT+ community are the third most common form of hate crime in the U.S. 16 per cent of the approximately 7,100 hate crimes reported in 2017 were allegedly directed against people because of their sexual orientation, principally gay men. A spokesperson for the Anti-Defamation League, Jake Hyman, said that it didn’t make sense enacting hate crime legislation unless it included hate crimes against people because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Alaska statute AS 12.55.155 specifies the current law as it applies to hate crimes. Penalties for other alleged crimes may currently be extended if it can be proved that the defendant committed the crime against another person because of their race, religion, sex, age or ethnicity.

If you have been accused of a crime, but believe you are innocent under Alaska’s hate crime legislation, you should contact criminal defense attorney, Dattan Scott Dattan, as soon as possible. He will vigorously defend your innocence, negotiate a plea bargain or will fight to represent you in court. You can contact the Law Office of Dattan Scott Dattan in Anchorage at 907-276-8008.

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