T-Project, a non-profit group that advocates for LGBTQ+ rights, has collected a petition from the community to support the passage of a hate crimes bill now pending in the CNMI House of Representatives.
T-Project president Tyra Lyn Sablan submitted Wednesday the petition that she signed, along with 24 other people, to House Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations chair Rep. Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan) to push for the passage of House Bill 22-18, or the Hate Crimes Act of 2021. Rep. Donald M. Manglona (Ind-Rota) introduced the measure, with 10 other representatives as co-authors.
The bill will amend the Commonwealth Code to provide enhanced sentences for defendants in crimes motivated by hate.
Sablan said the passage of H.B. 22-18 will set an important precedence in the CNMI to ensure that all persons who commit a crime out of hate will be held accountable for their actions and send a message to all those who wish to do the same. “We the people of the CNMI have long awaited such a bill and we urge the committee for the expedient passage of this bill,” Sablan said in the petition submitted to the JGO committee.
Sablan said throughout the course of history, hate has manifested itself consistently and deadlier as generations pass. She cited several instances in history when hate led to the genocide of the Jews, slavery in America, the killings and bombings of mosques, the persecution of the Christians and the slaughter of many LGBTQ+ individuals around the world.
Closer to home, she cited the case of a 54-year-old barber who was attacked in May by an inmate at the Department of Corrections in Susupe while he was cutting hair for DOC. When the inmate was questioned why he attacked the barber, he replied, “Because he is gay.”
Sablan said crimes borne of hate against race, national origin, color, age, ancestry, gender, gender identity or expression, religion, religious practice, or sexual orientation has plagued the CNMI for decades and has spread terror in the hearts of people in the community and has created a culture of hate and stigma.
“Although we cannot control the essence of people’s morality, we can, however, regulate behavior and ensure that all individuals in the CNMI are provided equal opportunity to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness without intimidation,” she said.
Manglona’s H.B. 22-18 is being reviewed now by Babauta’s committee.
In his bill, Manglona said that criminal acts borne of hate have become more pervasive and widespread throughout the CNMI. Hate crimes, he said, are grounded upon an individual’s identifying characteristics and are symbolic, meant to send a message to that person, and to that person’s community.
He said the cultural fabric of the CNMI community is tightly wound with the values of respect and tolerance for one another. The lawmaker said the current lack of protection from crimes based on a person’s race, color, national origin, age, ancestry, gender, gender identity or expression, religion, religious practice, disability, or sexual orientation of a person is the antithesis of those values.
He said the CNMI trails behind the widespread reform that has taken hold in the U.S. that has recognized, illegalized, and penalized hate-based criminal acts, by expanding the number of “protected groups” as targets of hate-motivated crime: by providing penalty enhancement for hate-based crimes; and by requiring data collection and statistical reporting.
He said the CNMI joins a minority of states and territories that have yet to enact meaningful legislation to regulate hate-based crimes (Arkansas, Wyoming, South Carolina, American Samoa, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands).
Manglona said it is time for the Commonwealth to join the majority of states that have passed reform legislation regulating hate-based criminal acts.
The proposed legislation will ensure that every individual within the Commonwealth is afforded an equal opportunity to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness without the fear or intimidation that their inherent qualities or characteristics would exclude them from all privileges of the Commonwealth.
Under the bill, if the maximum penalty for the underlying crimes is one year or less, the penalty for a violation of this act shall be imprisonment of not more than one year or a fine of not more than $2,000, or both.
If the maximum penalty for the underlying crime is five years or over one year, the penalty for a violation of this act shall be imprisonment for not more than five years or a fine of not more than $5,000, or both.
If the maximum penalty for the underlying crime is 10 years or more, the penalty for a violation of this act shall be imprisonment of not more than 10 years or a fine of not more than $15,000, or both.
In addition, the court may require as part of the sentence imposed upon a person convicted of a hate crime, that the defendant complete a program, training session, or counseling session directed at hate prevention and education, where the court determines such program, training session or counseling session is appropriate and available.
Manglona said the enactment of the bill shall not have the effect of terminating, or any way modifying, any liability, civil or criminal, which shall already be in existence on the date this act becomes effective.
LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or sometimes questioning), and others. The plus represents other sexual identities.