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January 14, 2011 at 7:33 PM

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Bill would enhance penalties for crimes against the homeless

Posted by Joanna Nolasco

After a similar attempt failed in the state House last year, state Sen. Scott White, D-Seattle, is again proposing a bill that would enhance punishments for crimes against the homeless.

Senate Bill 5011would allow courts to sentence defendants above the standard range if the offense was committed because the victim was perceived to be homeless.

“With so many people facing financial hardship, we are seeing our homeless population increase, and it’s something that we need to pay attention to because they are citizens, they are members of our society, and they deserve protection,” White said.

During the bill’s public hearing Friday, however, a representative of the Washington Defender Association argued that the Legislature should instead focus on trying to reduce homelessness itself.

“We believe that resources need to be spent on making people not homeless, rather than trying to use something like this that’s going to be a costly prosecution,” said Bob Cooper, who added that the defender association does not disagree with the goal of protecting homeless people.

“This is not going to be any more than the symbolic gesture for helping homeless people and I hope that this Legislature can do a whole lot more,” he said.

As a representative last year, Sen. White proposed House Bill 2497, which would have listed homeless persons as a protected class under the state’s hate-crimes law. The bill passed through the House, but failed to pass the Senate before the session ended.

White was elected to the state Senate in November.

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