Attacks on homeless people will soon be classified as a hate crime in Florida, which has ranked first in the nation for such attacks the past 11 years.
The bill passed by the Legislature this past session and signed by Gov. Charlie Crist on Tuesday amends the state’s hate crime statute to include offenses where there is evidence of prejudice based on the victim being homeless.
The law, which goes into effect Oct. 1, increases the maximum sentence a judge can impose. For example, a first-degree misdemeanor, which is one year in jail and a $1,000 fine, is reclassified to a third-degree felony of five years imprisonment and a $5,000 fine. Advocates and some legislators had tried to get a bill passed for the past several years without success.
Florida’s law places it in a small group nationally — Maryland, Maine and Washington, D.C. — that has similar hate crime bills, according to officials at the National Coalition for the Homeless. Advocates are seeking a similar change in the federal hate crime law.