Buono/Weinberg Bill To Increase Penalties For Bullying And Hate Crimes Clears Senate

Senator Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, discusses her bill to crack down on bullying and hate crimes in schools.

TRENTON – A measure sponsored by Senators Barbara Buono and Loretta Weinberg which would strengthen State laws on hate crimes and bullying was unanimously approved today by the full Senate.

“Often, those choosing to commit hate crimes target victims based on who they are perceived to be, and not on facts and one-on-one relationships,” said Senator Buono, D-Middlesex. “Hate crimes epitomize ignorance, and they are frightening examples of how acting on stereotypes can prove to be deadly.”

“Throughout our nation’s history, nearly every ethnic group has endured discrimination based on simple, uninformed assumptions of character,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen. “With this legislation, it is our goal to help encourage a more educated and well-informed public of the dangers of hate crimes, bullying and the ignorance that fuels all related violent actions.”

The Senators’ bill, S-1975, would strengthen current laws on bullying and hate crimes to include penalties for crimes against people based on gender and identity expression, national origin and disability. Currently, these groups are not protected under the State’s “Bias Intimidation Act.” This legislation would call for those found guilty of harassing a member of any group to be prosecuted for both assault and bias intimidation. Under the bill, bias intimidation would be added to the list of crimes for which the Victims of Crime Compensation Agency would be permitted to order payment for personal injury or death.

The bill would also establish a Commission on Bullying in Schools which would be responsible for studying and making recommendations on the effectiveness, adequacy and funding of school bullying policies and regulations. The membership of the 14-person Commission would include the Commissioner of Education; the Director of the Division of Civil Rights; a representative of the New Jersey Education Association; and a representative of the Anti-Defamation League.

Schools would be required to post their anti-bullying policies on their websites and to distribute them to parents and guardians.

The bill would also call upon local and county law enforcement to keep statistics on bias crimes. The Attorney General would maintain a central list of the statistics throughout the state. The bill would also call for all new police officers to complete a training course on bias intimidation crimes.

“When this bill was heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee, we heard testimony that New Jersey ranks second in the Nation in the number of reported hate crimes. As a mother of four, I refuse to allow this sort of discrimination to go unaddressed,” Senator Buono said.

“This legislation can serve as an example to people of all ages that discrimination and intolerance on any level are wrong. People need to understand that we in New Jersey are determined to provide equal rights for all residents,” said Senator Weinberg.

This measure now heads to the Assembly for consideration.

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