CARSON CITY, Nevada — Nevada lawmakers made a strong statement Tuesday, passing a bill that says crimes motivated by hatred of transgender people will not be tolerated in the Silver State.
The Assembly passed the measure on a 30-11 vote with only Republicans opposed. The bill already cleared the Senate and now heads to Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval.
"This does not afford victims special rights," said Assemblyman Andrew Martin, D-Las Vegas, who is openly gay. "This is a statement of what our society is, and that we will not tolerate the systematic targeting of individuals who are historically disadvantaged groups."
Sandoval spokeswoman Mary-Sarah Kinner told The Associated Press Tuesday that the governor supports the legislation.
The bill, SB139, would add "gender identity or expression" to the list of motivations deemed to be hate crimes under state law. Supporters outlined in graphic detail several instances of the violent nature of crimes motivated by hate, saying the added protection would help deter more violent crimes.
"Whenever we find that there are a group of people among us that — for some reason — are more vulnerable, we protect them," said Sen. Pat Spearman, D-North Las Vegas, the bill's primary sponsor. "That's what we do."
Perpetrators of hate crimes are subject to both the penalties for the actual crime committed and additional penalties because of the hateful motivation. Some opponents disagreed with the concept of unequal punishment.
Crimes should be punished based on the action, not the reason, Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, argued to his colleagues.
"If I was passing out religious fliers and somebody attacked me, that would be considered a hate crime," Hansen said. "But if I were passing out fliers protesting the war in Iraq and somebody attacked me, that would not be considered a hate crime even though the actions were identical."
He added an attack on a woman because of her gender is not protected the same as if the attacker thought she was a lesbian.
"We clearly are dividing people into protected and unprotected classes," Hansen said. "We're starting to punish people because of thoughts and speech that we find repugnant."
He added the provision violates the free speech and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.
"Either we're equal in the eyes of the law or we're not," Hansen said. "If we truly believe in equality, equality should be for all in the eyes of the law."