Posted on March 29, 2024

WA Lawmakers Pass Bill to Create Hotline for Hate Crimes and Bias Incidents

Daniel Beekman, Seattle Times, March 2, 2024

Washington will establish a nonpolice hotline to assist people who have been targeted by hate crimes and bias incidents, state lawmakers decided this week, passing a new version of a bill that failed to advance last year.

Senate Bill 5427, sponsored by Sen. Javier Valdez, D-Seattle, among others, directs the state Attorney General’s Office to create a hotline serving at least three Washington counties by 2025 and all counties by 2027.

The bill says the hotline should be staffed during business hours. It says call takers should provide victims with information, refer them to culturally competent, trauma-informed local service providers for additional help and document the calls for annual reports. Identifying information will be kept out of the reports and will be exempt from public disclosure requests.

SB 5427 passed the Senate on Feb. 7 and cleared the House on Wednesday, drawing unanimous support from Democrats and near-unanimous opposition from Republicans. It’s now headed to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk to be signed into law.

Under Washington law, hate crimes are actions in which a perpetrator maliciously and intentionally causes physical injury or damage because of a victim’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression or identity, or disability. Established as a category in Washington in 2019, hate crimes also include hate-related threats that cause a victim to reasonably fear harm. They’re felony offenses punishable by up to five years in prison.

SB 5427 defines bias incidents as “hostile expressions of animus” that relate to a victim’s actual or perceived race, color, ethnicity, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression or identity, or disability. Bias incidents don’t include free-speech expressions for or against the policies of foreign or domestic governments, the bill says.

Proponents say a hotline is needed because many hate crimes currently go unreported to — or undocumented by — police and because police generally don’t record data on bias incidents, which are noncriminal in nature. Especially in marginalized communities, people might be afraid to contact police. Even when police are contacted, they might lack evidence to document a hate crime.

Washington police reported 590 hate crimes to the FBI for 2022, 651 for 2021 and 462 for 2020. {snip}

SB 5427 received support from the Anti-Defamation League Pacific Northwest, Faith Action Network, Latino Civic Alliance, Seattle Education Association, Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Seattle, Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs, Washington State LGBTQ Commission, United Indians of All Tribes Foundation and Khalsa Gurmat Center {snip}


SB 5427 critics say hate crimes should be handled only by police and say a reporting system for noncriminal bias incidents could chill free speech. The bill encountered opposition from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression and from the Washington Policy Center, a conservative think tank.