Scott Crawford of the Mississippi Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities

Key committee chairs are not ruling out the possibility of taking up a bill on Tuesday – a key deadline day – to expand Mississippi’s hate crimes law to cover crimes committed against people because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

Under current Mississippi law, the penalties can be enhanced – as much as doubled – if it can be determined by a jury that the crime was committed against someone because of his or her race, ethnicity, nationality, religion or gender.

On Monday, the Human Rights Campaign and others held a news conference at the state Capitol to say the penalty also should be enhanced if committed because of a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

“When a person is targeted for who they are, it is not only a crime against (that person), but everyone like (that person),” said  Scott Crawford, of the Mississippi Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities.

In the past few years, Rob Hill, chair of the state’s Human Rights Campaign, said four transgender women have been murdered in the state. Three of those cases are still open and one was prosecuted under the federal hate crimes law because it involved multi-state issues.

Hill said the bills pending in the Mississippi Legislature – one in each chamber – would bring the state’s hate crime law into line with the federal law.

In the House, Judiciary B Chair Angela Cockerham, D-Magnolia, said she has not decided yet whether to bring the bill up for consideration this year.

In the Senate, the bill is doubled referred to Judiciary A and to Corrections. Judiciary A Chair Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg, said he hopes to pass the bill out of his committee Tuesday. It is not clear whether it would pass Corrections.

Unless the bill passes out of committee in one of the two chambers on Tuesday, it will be dead for the session.

Hill said a recent poll indicated strong, bipartisan support throughout the state for enhanced penalties for hate crimes.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.