Displaying nooses in public places and work sites would become a hate crime under legislation approved unanimously Monday by the Judiciary Committee.
Lawmakers fell short, however, of an outright ban on displays—on private property, in particular—because of constitutional rights to free speech, allowing private-property owners to proclaim their biases.
The proposal was provoked by a series of recent incidents throughout the state, including in the Bridgeport Police Department, where nooses have been displayed where minorities would be sure to see it.
The bill as drafted would protect people who hang nooses on their own property or on private property with the written permission of the owner. It would be an expansion of the state’s 1980 law that categorized burning crosses as hate crimes. It depends on proof that there would be intent to intimidate based on a person’s race, national origin, religion or other general requirements under existing law.
If the bill is approved before the Legislature’s May 7 deadline and is signed into law, it would create a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a year in prison and a $2,000 fine. “I think it’s an important statement that the Legislature should make,” said Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, D-East Haven, co-chairman of the committee.
“This is the dilemma with hate crimes,” Lawlor said. “People have the constitutional right to be a bigot if they want to. Free-speech rights protect them. My feeling is this is as far as we can go.”
He said that as “outrageous” as the displaying of a noose may be, making the law any tougher could cause the whole thing to be struck down as unconstitutional.
The 43-0 committee vote sends the legislation to the House floor.