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The California State Assembly approved a bill to combat hate-based violence against the homeless.
The legislation would increase civil rights protections for the homeless by allowing the homeless to sue for larger sums of damages if they are targeted in an attack, the Associated Press reports.
Many Republicans voted against the bill, saying homelessness isn't in the same category as race, gender and sexual orientation.
But as previously discussed, homeless advocates argue attacks against the homeless are no different than racially or ethnically motivated crimes and should be added to hate crime laws, carrying with them stiffer prison terms.
The bill passed by the California Assembly would add additional civil, not criminal, measures to deter attacks on the homeless. Perpetrators would not receive additional jail time on account of an attack being targeted on someone homeless, but could end up owing more money if sued by the victim.
Advocates for the homeless argue that attacks against the homeless show bias toward a vulnerable population needing protection under a state hate crimes law.
The bill's sponsors say California ranks second in the nation in crimes against the homeless. In addition, this bill would give homeless people or public interest groups on their behalf, the right to seek redress by suing their attackers for civil rights violations.
Under the bill, about 157,000 homeless would be added to the list of groups protected from hate-based violence.
So far, hate crime laws have been adopted in Maine, Maryland and Washington D.C.
Florida could become the next state to give homeless people such protections.
Currently, Florida's hate crime law provides for increased penalties if someone is specifically targeted because of his or her race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or age. With new legislation pending, the homeless population would be added to that list.
California's bill allowing additional civil damages, however, still needs approval from the Senate and the governor's signature before it would become law.