Legislators strengthen penalties for hate crimes against people with mental and physical disabilities
A bill that strengthens penalties in the hate crimes law for adults with mental and physical disabilities, HB 387, passed the Senate unanimously Friday and was sent to the governor.
Named after Carl Starke, a 36-year-old autistic man from St. Augustine who was targeted by teenagers looking to steal a car, the bill raises the civil and criminal penalties when it involves someone with a disability. Starke was followed from a Wal-Mart parking lot to his condominium and shot and killed in August 2015.
He was seen "as a soft target," said Rep. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, whose is friends with Carl's sister, Carly, and sponsored the bill. The bill, was named "Carl's Law" in memoriam to Starke. It is also sponsored by Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, R-St. Augustine, and passed the Senate 38-0 and House 116-0.
Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who has a son with Down Syndrome, told the chamber, "this is one of those bills where I wish I could push this button more than once."
The bill, however, was criticized by the Florida Hate Crimes Coalition, a group of disability rights and other civil rights groups, because they believe the changes to the law are superficial and "makes no meaningful changes to the hate crimes law." They consider the definition of disability in the current law too narrow.
"Practically speaking, the bill has no effect on providing law enforcement with the tools it needs to investigate and prosecute more hate crimes against persons with disabilities,'' the group said in a statement.
The group asked sponsors to amend the bill with a the broader definition of disability found in Florida’s Fair Housing Law but it wasn't added.
" While this legislation may be well meaning, the irony is that due the hate crimes law’s narrow definition of disability, the crime against Carl Starke or a similar victim could not be classified as a hate crime under the bill or current law,'' said Matthew Dietz, Litigation Director, Disability Independence Group. "Furthermore, a person with a physical disability is not covered unless he or she also has a mental disability."