Election year realities put hate crime bill on the shelf


What would you consider a hate crime? 

Is it threats of violence against someone because of who they are, whether they are part of the LGBTQ+ community, have a disability, come from a different country, are old or are heavy? 

Or is it more than that? Is it stalking someone for being something other than being straight and white? Is it calling someone a racial epithet and then physically assaulting them? 

Could it be uttering what others perceive to be a threat? That they’re going to tag your car? Deflate your tires? All because of who you are? 

State Rep. Noah Arbit, D-West Bloomfield, has spent most of his first term in office trying to pin down in state law a more expanded definition of a hate crime that ropes in all the types of verbal attacks thrown his way as a gay man. 

He’s felt the threats firsthand and believes that those making them need to be prosecuted to prevent real violence and real hurt. 

He’s on draft three of his bill, and he’s struggling to gain traction, even within the LGBTQ+ community. 

Equality Michigan, the state’s top advocacy group for LGBTQ+ folks, is neutral on what Arbit’s trying to do. In response, Arbit isn't seeking Equality Michigan’s endorsement in the coming election. He finds their position “noxious to the people it claims to serve.” 

Equality Michigan Executive Director Erin Knott didn’t want to expand on why Equality Michigan doesn’t want to engage, but the political realities are obvious. 

When Arbit’s bills were first introduced, Republicans targeted them as making it a felony to misgender someone.  

Whether the misgendering is intentional, folks like Rep. Andrew Beeler, R-Port Huron, said to make something as subjective as “intimidation” a prosecutable offense crosses into “constitutionally protected” free speech. 

Beeler’s gotten some national media traction on his claims.  

The idea that you could be arrested, fined or even jailed for calling a transgender man a woman or a transgender woman a man has captured the imagination of FOX News and other conservative media outlets. 

With polling between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump as close as it is, Democratic sympathizers like Equality Michigan do not want to give Republicans an easy wedge issue with which to pick off swing voters. 

Arbit is swearing up and down that his original bill didn’t criminalize misgendering people. His second version didn’t either. Nor did his third version. 

Yet, none of that matters in terms of what could show up in a TV ad or a mailer. The Democrats have a slim, 56-54 majority in the state House.  

House leadership is being extremely careful about the types of subjects they’re taking up this year. Anything that remotely sniffs of a tax increase, expanded government or any other societal wedge issue is being pushed to lame duck or next year, presuming they have the gavel next year. 

It’s all budget, all the time in the House. They are spending more money for schools, making targeted economic investments that help communities grow and providing assistance to those who need it. 

Democratic members in swing districts should expect to see their communities taken care of. A new fire engine. A new boat dock. Improvements made to a park. These types of things will be snuck into the budget at the last minute to give those 10 to 15 lawmakers representing districts with a smaller Democratic base something more to campaign on. 

That’s the focus of the Michigan Legislature right now.  

Whether Arbit is or isn’t endorsed by Equality Michigan won’t impact the outcome of his election. But the fact that Equality Michigan isn’t endorsing his hate crimes bill isn’t going to impact its future either. 

Equality Michigan sees that pushing for something that could be twisted and exploited — right or wrong — isn't worth putting the Democratic majority at risk.  

If the Dems win this November, Arbit’s bill may be worth looking at. For now, though, it’s firmly on the shelf. 

(Email Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS at melinnky@gmail.com.) 



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