ABOVE: State Rep. Joe Geller (L), who filed HB 655, and state Sen. Kevin Radar, who filed SB 940, hope to expand Florida’s hate crime law in 2020.

Lawmakers in both the Florida House and Senate filed joint bills this month ahead of the state’s 2020 Legislative session that would expand Florida’s current hate crime laws to include gender, gender identity and physical disability. The bills would also add “association with” and “mixed motive” hate crimes to the current law.

Senate Bill (SB) 940, called the Crimes Evidencing Prejudice bill, was filed by state Sen. Kevin Radar (D-Boca Raton) on Nov. 14 and House Bill (HB) 655, called the Offenses Evidencing Prejudice bill, was filed by state Rep. Joseph Geller (D-Miami/Dade) with Rep. Rick Stark (D-Weston) and Rep. Jackie Toledo (R-Tampa) on Nov. 15.

“Protecting Floridians from hate motivated violence should not be a democratic or republican issue, but one that brings us all together, therefore [the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)] commends the bi-partisan sponsorship of this bill,” said Sheri Zvi, ADL’s Florida regional director, in a press release Nov. 18. “Closing the loopholes in Florida’s hate crime law is long overdue and we urge members from across the aisle to co-sponsor this critical legislation.”

The bills were applauded by the Florida Hate Crime Coalition (FHCC). The FHCC is a coalition composed of 214 statewide members, including the ADL, law enforcement leaders (14 police chiefs, four sheriffs, and seven state attorneys), elected officials (39 mayors, two city commissions and one county commissioner), civil rights groups and other nonprofit organizations, such as Equality Florida.

“Passing this bill in the Florida legislature is a no-brainer,” said Jeanette Jennings, mother of trans activist Jazz Jennings and founder of TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation, an FHCC member. “Too many in our state do not currently enjoy the same protections from criminal acts motivated by bias and hate, and this directly impacts the transgender community. Anyone who is targeted in Florida specifically because of the outward expression of their gender identity, currently has no protection under our hate crime law.”

The bills come as the FBI released its annual report this month showing that hate-crime violence nationwide hit a 16-year high in 2018. Even though the report shows overall numbers remaining about the same, the FBI saw the numbers for bias-driven property crimes go down by 19% but aggravated assaults were up 4%, simple assaults were up 15% and intimidation was up 13%.

One factor to keep in mind with the FBI’s statistics, while the numbers are reported as nationwide, state and local law enforcement agencies are not required to report hate crime numbers to the FBI leaving many cities and states data missing from the totals. Additionally, experts say less than half of hate crime victims go to police.

If passed, SB940 and HB655 would go into effect Oct. 1, 2020.

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