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Friday, December 14, 2007

LEGISLATION TO OVERHAUL NEW JERSEY'S HATE CRIMES AND SCHOOL BULLYING LAWS

The bill, approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee 8-0 yesterday, adds "gender identity or expression" to the state's hate crimes law and strengthens the state's hate crimes law for all minority groups.

The bill also requires schools to post on the web, and widely distribute, their anti-school bullying policies, and creates a Commission on Bullying in Schools to further strengthen the state's anti-bullying law.

The bill will become the 154th LGBT civil rights law enacted at the state, county and local levels since Garden State Equality's founding in 2004 -- a civil rights record.

Friday, December 14, 2007
Contact: Steven Goldstein, Garden State Equality

By a unanimous 8-0 vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday approved S2975, chief-sponsored by Senators Barbara Buono and Loretta Weinberg, to strengthen New Jersey's hate crimes and anti-school bullying laws. Presenting testimony in favor of the bill were Garden State Equality and the New Jersey Anti-Defamation League -- both of which conceived the bill -- as well as New Jersey Educational Association, the Gender Rights Advocacy Association, and the Attorney General's office on behalf of the Corzine Administration.

There was no opposition testimony. Among those voting "yes" yesterday was Senator Gerald Cardinale, perhaps the most conservative member of the New Jersey legislature.
The Assembly Judiciary Committee, and full Assembly and Senate, are expected to pass the bill in January. The bill is A4591 in the Assembly, chief-sponsored by Wilfredo Caraballo, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Upendra Chivukula and John McKeon.

The bill comes on the heels of a just-released FBI report that ranks New Jersey #2 in hate crimes nationally, behind only California. The bill does the following:

1. Adds "gender identity or expression" as a protected class to the state hate crimes law. Combined with the 2006 expansion of the state's Law Against Discrimination to include gender identity or expression, the strengthened hate crimes law will make New Jersey's laws for the transgender community unsurpassed in all America.

2. Provides two hours of training on hate crimes for all new police officers.

3. Offers innovative sentencing options to judges, such as anti-hate sensitivity training for convicted defendants.

4. Requires schools to post their anti-bullying policies on their websites, and to distribute those policies to parents and guardians of students annually.

5. Creates a Commission on Bullying in Schools that would be charged with making recommendations to the legislature within nine months on how to further strengthen New Jersey's existing anti-school bullying law.
"As Washington stumbles through one of the most disappointing years ever for the LGBT community, including Congress' refusal to pass a hate crimes law and the cruel elimination of the transgender community from an Employment Non-Discrimination Act that President Bush still won't sign," said Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality, "New Jersey continues to be a national beacon for civil rights."
"The enactment of this bill will be the start of another amazing year in New Jersey," said Goldstein, "and we look forward to culminating 2008 with the enactment of a marriage equality statute."

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