By JON PARTON
TOPEKA, Kan. (CN) – Kansas lawmakers met Wednesday to discuss a bill that would double the sentence of anyone convicted of a hate crime, but walked out without taking any action.
The hearing came two weeks after Indian immigrants Alok Madasani and Srinivas Kuchibhotla were shot in an Olathe, Kansas, bar. The FBI is investigating the shootings as a hate crime.
The state Senate Judiciary Committee listened to supporters and opponents of SB 128, which would also require state law enforcement agencies to report hate crimes as part of their data collection. State Sen. David Haley, a Democrat from Kansas City, introduced the bill and is the only sponsor.
“What this bill does is put in place a clear hate crime-motivated penalty,” Haley said. “It would say that we take very seriously that that biased crime would be punished.”
While Kansas law currently recognizes hate crimes and allows judges to impose tougher sentences on convicted individuals, the bill would alter that by automatically doubling the maximum sentence of the crime’s imprisonment term.
Ed Klumpp, a lobbyist for several state law enforcement groups, said the organizations were neutral about the proposed sentencing changes. But they oppose the part of the bill that called on those agencies to report hate crimes because they already do so.
“We are already funding data, we have been for years, on hate crimes,” Klumpp said. “That’s part of our standard Kansas offense report.”
Civil rights activist Alvin Sykes spoke in favor of the bill. Sykes, a Kansas City resident, assisted in solving the hate-crime murders of musician Steve Harvey in 1980 and Emmett Till in 1955.
“Most hate crimes that will fall under Senate Bill 128 are not murders,” Sykes said. “Lesser crimes such as assault and vandalism happen a lot more frequently.”
In written testimony, the ACLU approved toughening of hate crime sentences, but disapproved of the bill’s lack of protection for transgender people. Haley said he would work to revise the bill.