WASHINGTON — Because of a rise in hate crimes and what he calls a major philosophical shift in Washington following the presidential election, Virginia’s Democratic attorney general is pushing for changes.
“I want to make sure that if the new administration chooses to step back from its responsibilities on hate crimes even an inch, Virginians’ rights will still be protected,” said Attorney General Mark Herring.
Herring announced Friday that he is backing legislation to update Virginia’s definition of a hate crime to more closely match the federal definition. The bill would expand Virginia’s definition to include people targeted not only because of their race, religion or ethnicity, but also because of their gender, gender identity and sexual orientation, or because of a disability.
Another measure backed by Herring would give his office more power to investigate and prosecute suspected hate crimes. Additionally, he announced the launch of NoHateVA.com, a website with information about hate crime laws and resources available to victims.
In 2015, there were 155 hate crime offenses reported in Virginia, a 21 percent increase over 2014. Most of the crimes in 2015 were based on racial bias.
Nationally, the FBI reported a 6 percent increase in hate crimes in 2015, including a 67 percent increase in crimes against Muslim Americans.