Hate crime bill sponsored by Assemblymembers Cooper, Low defeated in Public Safety Committee hearing

A California Assembly bill authored and sponsored by Assemblymembers Jim Cooper (D - Elk Grove) and Evan Low (D - San Jose) was defeated in a 30 minute hearing before the Assembly Public Safety Committee hearing this afternoon.

The legislation, Assembly Bill 266 would have denied the early release of people convicted of certain hate crimes. In recent weeks following the national spike in anti-Asian crimes and hate speech, Cooper and his supporters including Elk Grove Mayor Bobbie Singh-Allen have promoted the legislation during in-district public appearances.

Speaking in favor of the bill were representatives from the California District Attorney's Association, California State Sheriff's Association, San Diego District Attorney's Association, and Riverside County Sheriff's Association. Opponents of the law included representatives from the American Civil Liberties Association and California Public Defender's Association.

During his testimony, Cooper stressed AB266 does not add time to sentences but makes prisoners ineligible for early release. He also seemingly called out several groups for their silence on the bill.

"So I ask; where are the champions of social justice on this issue," Cooper said. "Where is Equality California, the Jewish Federation, CARE, and APAPA (Asian Pacific Island American Public Affairs)."

Assemblymember Low, a member of the Public Safety Committee, noted there is "a dangerous rise of hate of our fellow Americans through the state of California and our nation" and that people of Asian ancestry are being targeted. 

"I find myself every single weekend marching in the streets rallying with individuals crying out and asking, what we collectively can do," Low stated.  

While law enforcement groups spoke briefly saying they supported the legislation, the ACLU and California Public Defenders Association characterized the bill as a step back from recent incarceration reforms in California. Both speakers stressed their groups' support efforts to combat anti-Asian hate and crimes but said this bill would not address the problem.

"This bill is not about violent crime, it is about harsher punishment for non-violent crimes," ACLU representative Kathy Sher said. "Targeting non-violent hate crimes by re-categorizing them as violent will do nothing to stop violent hate crime." 

Public Safety Committee Chairperson Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D - Los Angeles), who was one of four who kept the bill from moving to the Appropriations Committee, said he appreciated Cooper and Low efforts, but more comprehensive action was needed. Jones-Sawyer invited Cooper and Low to join him in crafting another piece of legislation that he called a "domestic terrorist bill" to address the situation. 

"Hate does not have a color line, it is pervasive amongst every color line not just one," he said. "We need to come together to figure things out."  

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