Senate Passes Hate Crimes Bill

Mar 9, 2016

On a mostly party-line vote, the Iowa Senate has approved a bill to add transgender individuals to those protected by Iowa’s hate crimes statute. 

The vote on Tuesday came after the killing last week of a teenager in Burlington.

Sixteen-year-old Kedarie Johnson was shot to death last Wednesday.   The student’s body was later discovered in an alley.

State Senator Matt McCoy (D-Des Moines) says Johnson was transitioning from female to male.

“She was having a difficult time at school,” said McCoy. “The school was working to see how best to protect her inside the school.”

McCoy says Johnson was killed shortly after discussion was delayed on the Senate bill.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the Senate, we need to pass the hate crimes bill,” McCoy said.

McCoy’s comments drew criticism from Burlington Police Lt. Jeff Klein, according to a report by Tri States Public Radio in Macomb, IL.

“I don’t know where he got his information from, but what he provided to the senate was not true,” he said.

McCoy said he got his information from a “good authority”, though said he misspoke when he referred to Kedarie as female. 

“[Johnson] was a boy who was questioning his gender identity,” McCoy is quoted as saying later Tuesday. 

Under the bill, crimes committed because of a person’s transgender status would face additional penalties.   Sexual orientation is already covered by the hate crimes law.

McCoy says in spite of advances for gays and lesbian, life in Iowa is still difficult for transgender individuals.  He cites police officials who say violence against transgender citizens is underreported.

The bill passed the Senate on a mostly party-line vote of 27 to 21.   Sen. Charles Schneider (R-West Des Moines) joined all 26 Democrats in voting yes.

Opponents of the bill argued people and groups should not be singled out for protection

"We should not be picking who is hated and who is not hated," said Sen. Mark Chelgren (R-Ottumwa).

Several groups issued statements praising the Senate vote, including Iowa Safe Schools and gay and lesbian advocacy organization One Iowa.

The bill faces an uphill battle in the House.   It must be approved by a House committee by the end of the week to remain eligible for debate.