- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — The state Senate adopted a first-in-the-nation hate crime classification for homeless people yesterday, despite concern that the measure would dilute hate-crime protections.

Under the bill, homeless people would join ethnic and racial minorities as protected classes in Maryland hate-crimes laws. Sexual orientation and religion are also included.

A Senate committee considering the bill watched videos of homeless people being beating before adopting the idea.

“Some people beat up on the homeless for sport,” said Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, Baltimore Democrat.

Homeless advocates praised the passage of the bill, which now heads to the House.

“This is a growing problem,” said Jessica Schuler, a policy analyst for the Washington-based National Coalition for the Homeless. “These crimes are occurring out of the same ignorance other hate crimes come out of.”

However, the bill sparked a sharp debate and brought opponents from both parties. Most of the sponsors of the bill are Republicans, and some worried the bill was an attempt to water down hate-crimes laws. The Senate defeated attempts to add disabled people and “economic class” to the bill.

“I believe every crime is a hate crime,” said Sen. E.J. Pipkin, Eastern Shore Republican, who voted against the measure. “It begins to undermine why we have a special class for hate crimes.”

Miss Gladden said, “We should get to a point in America where we don’t need hate crimes and special classes. But we’re not there yet.”

Other Democrats worried the action would open up more proposals to expand hate crimes laws until they mean little.

“I’m not confident it was well thought out,” said Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, Baltimore /Howard Democrat who voted against the bill.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Democrat, ultimately voted for the bill but acknowledged the delicate nature of its contents.

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