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Seattle council member introduces bill to strengthen penalties for hate crimes

Seattle Councilmember Lisa Herbold introduced legislation Tuesday to strengthen city code to allow stricter penalties for people who commit hate crimes.

A Seattle City Council committee passed new legislation to strengthen penalties against hate crimes.

Councilmember Lisa Herbold has been pushing for the legislation as data continues to show an alarming spike in hate crimes.

"It can't simply be explained away by better reporting, there is actually something going on," said Herbold, who oversees Civil Rights issues as part of her council committee.

The legislation is backed by Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes and Mayor Jenny Durkan, who wrote "we cannot afford to wait" on strengthening the laws.

The new legislation would enhance penalties for misdemeanor crimes, such as low-level assaults, theft, and harassment, according to the City Attorney’s Office.

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The move comes as a study shows assaults with a hate crime element are up 524% in Seattle since 2012. Incidents with racial bias are up 427% in the same period. The City Auditor's Office said many of the crimes happen in high traffic and racially diverse neighborhoods.

Credit: City of Seattle

While the King County Prosecutor's Office handles felonies, Holmes’ office has felt the current code limits his ability to add a bias component.

“It's a big loophole," Herbold said.

Herbold said the legislation is about setting an expectation for the public who live in Seattle and the people who visit the city..

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"The rhetoric that really came to fruition during the 2016 elections has influenced the whole country," said Masih Fouladi, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations for Washington state.

Fouladi’s office has heard the complaints and believes the legislation attempts to have a broad impact.

"All of these strategies together will help us in the short term and in the long term to make sure this isn't a continued occurrence in Seattle,” Fouladi said.

Despite the spike in crime, he still sees positivity for change.

"When that enthusiasm dies down then I would be concerned," he said.

The full Seattle City Council is expected to approve the legislation on Monday.