State Rep. Noah Arbit (D-West Bloomfield) speaks during a Lansing press conference on bills to strengthen hate crime laws, April 26, 2023 | Laina G. Stebbins
Flanked by more than a dozen state lawmakers on Wednesday, state Rep. Noah Arbit (D-West Bloomfield) and Attorney General Dana Nessel announced a package of bills that would update Michigan’s “outdated” and “woefully inadequate” laws to protect against hate crimes.
House Bills 4474-4477 would enact the Michigan Hate Crime Act and the Institutional Desecration Act, update sentencing guidelines and make it easier to prosecute individuals who target others for their ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability.
This would begin the process to “transform Michigan from a national laggard to a national leader on hate crimes prevention, intervention and response,” Arbit said.
Arbit noted that the Ethnic Intimidation Act, which has been Michigan law since 1988, has not been amended once since its passage despite a great need to do so.
“In the intervening 35 years, Michigan has seen an unabated rise in hate crimes with no corresponding legislative actions,” he said.
Former state Rep. Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield), who’s now Oakland County clerk, had attempted to expand the law more than a decade ago, but her proposal did not receive a hearing in the Legislature.
“Reported hate crimes and bias incidents in Michigan have increased almost every single year in the past decade, while Michigan’s legal architecture remains stuck in 1988,” Arbit continued.
The four-bill package includes:
- House Bill 4474, sponsored by Arbit, would create the Michigan Hate Crime Act.
- House Bill 4475, sponsored by state Rep. Kristian Grant (D-Grand Rapids), would update sentencing guidelines related to the act.
- House Bill 4476, sponsored by Arbit, would create the Institutional Desecration Act.
- House Bill 4477, sponsored by state Rep. Ranjeev Puri (D-Canton), would update sentencing guidelines related to the act.
The Michigan Hate Crime Act would expand hate crimes to include several categories missing from the current law, e.g. sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, physical or mental disability, ethnicity and age. It also contains a restorative justice approach to hate crimes, with alternatives to incarceration being offered in certain circumstances.
With the Institutional Desecration Act, Michigan would join 35 other states with laws that similarly prohibit the defacement, destruction and vandalism of institutions and communal property. These would include houses of worship, community centers, business and nonprofit headquarters and digital or online property.
Arbit cited the vandalization of a Rochester Hills mosque in 2021 and the defacement of a Grand Rapids Jewish cemetery in 2020 as examples of the need for the law. Puri added that his own family’s place of worship has also fallen victim to extremism.
“As a longtime prosecutor and defense attorney, I’ve handled stemming from the Ethnic Intimidation Act on both sides. And I’m intimately familiar [with] just how outdated the current statute is,” Nessel said. “ … As the law stands, this law is woefully inadequate to address the rise and escalation of crimes that we’re seeing today.”
Nessel pointed out that when the 1988 law was passed, it did so in a bipartisan fashion with co-sponsors that included former GOP Gov. John Engler and former Republican Lt. Gov. Connie Binsfeld, both of whom were serving in the Michigan Senate at the time.
Times have unfortunately changed, she said, noting the pushback from GOP lawmakers she received when she created her department’s hate crime investigation unit. Nessel said that during her testimony on the unit before the GOP-led Senate Oversight Committee in 2019, Republicans even questioned the need to keep the 1988 Ethnic Intimidation Act on the books.
“I’m grateful that we have a majority in the House and Senate right now that I believe will be responsive to this,” Nessel said. She and Arbit noted that they hope for bipartisan support on the bills.
“The conversations [with Republican members] are ongoing,” Arbit said. “ … I welcome bipartisan support and we’ll move heaven and earth to make sure that that happens.”
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