Sunday, January 17, 2010

CRIMES AGAINST HOMELESS BILL PASSES COMMITTEE UNANIMOUSLY

A bill that would add homelessness to the list of hate crime enhancements in the State of Florida passed unopposed in both House and Senate subcommittees.

With Florida leading the nation in the number of attacks on the homeless, Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti created the Hate Crimes Anti-Bias Task Force in October 2008 to address the problem.

Lamberti also saw the need for legislative changes and solicited the help of State Representative Ari Porth (D) and Senator Jeremy Ring (D). As a result, HB 11 sponsored by Porth and SB 506 sponsored by Ring were created and both bills passed unanimously this week in the House Committee on Public Safety and Domestic Security Policy and the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice.

"I found these unprovoked attacks against our homeless population disturbing, and while I wanted to know why, I also knew that action was needed," Sheriff Lamberti said. "Discrimination against any member of our society can't be tolerated."

Following the brutal beatings of the homeless in Fort Lauderdale that made national news, last year Maryland passed similar legislation that expanded its hate-crime law to add stiffer penalties for attacks on the homeless – the first state in the nation to do so. Sheriff Lamberti hopes Florida will follow Maryland's lead.

While in Tallahassee this week, BSO Commander Richard Wierzbicki testified before the subcommittees about the severity of the homeless situation in Broward and the state. "This is only the first hurdle, but once this bill becomes law it will go a long way toward protecting the homeless," said Commander Wierzbicki, member of the task force.

The task force hopes to partner this year with the Broward County School District to start a tolerance and diversity program.


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