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Joe Gruters files ‘political’ hate crimes bill

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

A House member has filed proposed legislation to add violence based on “political affiliation or beliefs” to the state’s list of hate crimes.

Rep. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican, first filed his 1-page bill Thursday. The bill is being redrafted to correct some technical errors and will be re-filed shortly, he said.

The measure as filed (HB 201) would require the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to gather information on such “criminal acts” in addition to those “based on race, religion, ethnicity, color, ancestry, sexual orientation, or national origin” under existing law.

Under the bill, “all law enforcement agencies shall report monthly” any politically-based hate crimes to FDLE.

As of this March, at least four other states—California, Iowa, South Carolina, and West Virginia—prohibited “bias-motivated violence or intimidation” against someone because of “political affiliation” or “political opinions,” either under a hate crime law or under general law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In a phone interview, Gruters said the legislation was not solely in response to Charlottesville, Virginia—where a car last month plowed into a group of counter-protesters to a white nationalist rally, killing one woman and injuring dozens of others.

But he added that he’s been troubled by what he sees as a growing trend toward violence during public protests of all types.

“I want to protect people’s right to stand up for what they believe in,” Gruters said. “People should be respected and protected on all sides in who they support and what they believe in … Violence is never the answer and I want to create some additional deterrence.”

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Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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