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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane lawmaker’s bill revising hate crime laws passes through the Senate

Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, and Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, talk during the Senate floor session Friday in Olympia.  (Lauren Rendahl / The Spokesman-Review)

Spurred by vandalism that targeted Spokane’s LGBTQ+ community multiple times last fall, a bill pushing to include destruction of public property within the definition of a hate crime passed the Senate floor Friday by a 35-14 vote.

Vandalism targeted the Odyssey Youth Movement, an LGBTQ youth center multiple times within a month, and two rainbow crosswalks were splattered with paint, and yet, because these crosswalks are considered public property, they couldn’t be classified as a hate crime.

“This incident was a real blow to our community,” Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said on Friday. “It created a lot of anger and fear.”

Billig, who sponsored the legislation, said that following these attacks he wanted to expand the definition of a hate crime to include harm done to public property. Current law only encompasses vandalism or destruction as a hate crime when done to a person or their property.

Spokane Pride Executive Director Matt Danielson supports the proposal.

The rainbow crosswalks were repainted, and a celebration of pride and LGBTQ inclusivity was held just days after the vandalism occurred. Around 100 people showed up to cross the crosswalk and show their support, a completely unexpected turnout, he said.

“It can be cynical and sad, but adversity brings the community together,” Danielson said in an interview. “We had to team up to make sure stuff like this doesn’t happen again.”

Billig noted that someone painting a swastika on the side of a school couldn’t be charged with a hate crime, but if the person painted it on the side of a business, that person could be.

“This bill closes the loophole, fixes the statute and will help to deter and properly address future similar acts of hate,” he said.

To be found guilty of a hate crime, a person must maliciously intend to harm someone based on their identity, including but not limited to gender, race, religion or sexual orientation.

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.