The Democrat-controlled Michigan House passed legislation on Tuesday that would give prosecutors power to prosecute “hate speech” and other “bias-related” crimes.
The proposed legislation, HB 4474, would expand Michigan’s 1988 ethnic intimidation law to give prosecutors more power to prosecute perceived “hate crimes” and acts of vandalism. One amendment would consider it a hate crime if an individual is found to have caused “severe mental anguish” to another person.
Intimidation and harassment is defined as a “willful course of conduct, involving repeated or continuing harassment of another individual that would cause a reasonable individual to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested,” under the amendment.
On Tuesday, the bill passed its first hurdle when it passed in the Michigan House by a vote of 59-50.
In remarks before the House floor Tuesday, bill sponsor Noah Arbit laid out his reasoning for proposing the legislation. “I’m sick of checking for hiding spots at the gay bar should a gunman opened fire. I’m sick of my Chaldean constituents being murdered in their place of business. I’m sick of reading headlines about Mosques and Churches being desecrated … Michigan can be so much better, and it’s about time that we were,” Arbit said.
“We know that at this time in history, extremism is on the rise. But also, our hate speech has translated into hate actions that put our most vulnerable populations at risk,” State Rep. Emily Dievendorf, a Democrat, said Tuesday.
“We fully expect success in the Senate and all the way to the governor’s desk,” she added.
WE DID IT!!! Both of my hate crime bills passed the House! Thank you to my colleagues, my legislative director Joanne Wisely, AG @DanaNessel, and most of all to the people of Greater West Bloomfield. I promised that I would get this done, and today we are one giant step closer!!! pic.twitter.com/EU0zUvUMIg
— Rep. Noah Arbit (@NoahArbit) June 20, 2023
Reactions from Republican lawmakers and civil liberties advocates have differed greatly, with many raising red flags over the bills implications for free speech. “Words are malleable,” Attorney David Kallman of the Great Lakes Justice Center (GLJC), a non-profit legal organization, said in a statement to the Epoch Times.
“Under the proposed statute, ‘intimidate and harass’ can mean whatever the victim, or the authorities, want them to mean. The focus is on how the victim feels rather than on a clearly defined criminal act. This is a ridiculously vague and subjective standard,” he told the outlet.
“The bill will lead to the prosecution of conservatives, pastors, and parents attending a school board meeting for simply expressing their opposition to the liberal agenda,” Kallman went on to say.
Violators could face up to five years in prison and upwards of $10,000 in fines if the legislation is adopted.
Offenders could also be provided with an alternative where they would do community service in order to “enhance the offender’s understanding of the impact of the offense upon the victim and wider community.”
“Community service under this subdivision must be performed with the consent of—and in support of—the community targeted in the violation,” the text continues.