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Today is Wednesday, November 28, 2007


New Mexico Passes Hate Crimes Bill

With the passage of a new hate crimes bill by the state's legislature, New Mexico is poised to jump from one of five states that currently have no hate crimes legislation to one of seven states, including Washington D.C., that have hate crimes laws that include not only sexual orientation but gender identity.

"We are happy to have supported this bill to include gender identity," said Seth Kilbourn, national field director for the Human Rights Campaign. "They're on the front lines of hate crime violence; the decision that New Mexico has made is very forward-thinking and the right thing to do."

The HRC provided a grant of $12,000 to the Coalition for Equality, a gay rights advocacy group based in Santa Fe, to help fund its legislative efforts.

Two times in the past similar measures have made their way to the governor's desk, but both times they were vetoed by the previous governor, Republican Gary Johnson. The current governor, Democrat Bill Richardson, has said he would sign such legislation if it reached his desk.

Under the bill, hate crime offenders could face an additional year in prison for their first offense, and two additional years for their second offense.

The legislation also requires that district attorneys, city, county and state police agencies provide all hate crime statistics to the FBI, and that law enforcement officers be trained in how to investigate and report a hate crime.

Jo Kenny, the executive director of the Coalition for Equality, said that her group has been working on the current bill for three years.

"We've worked on having a very strong presence of transgender folks at the capital, working on individuals' campaigns and educating legislators when they visit their districts," she said. "It has made a significant difference for legislators to get what gender identity is all about."

The legislation also provides judges sentencing offenders with alternatives to incarceration. She cited an example from a judge in Albuquerque, where a local hate crimes bill was in effect.

"There was one person whose option to avoid incarceration was to attend 12 meetings of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays," she said.

"At his last meeting, he said 'I have to tell you it has changed my life; it has changed the way I look at my life. I'm not going to raise my children to be bigots, and I even have a different relationship with my wife now.'"

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