Bill Vetoed to Add the Homeless to List of Those Protected From Violence

While agreeing that the state’ estimated 157,000 homeless are subject to violence and intimidation, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation August 5 that would have expanded the protections of some of the state’s civil rights and hate crime laws to persons who are homeless.

“It is undeniable that homeless people are vulnerable to victimization but California already has very strong civil and criminal laws that provide sufficient protection,” the Democratic governor wrote in his veto message.

The measure – AB 312 by Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, a Long Beach Democrat – said the homeless have a right to be free from violence or intimidation that’s inflicted on them because they are homeless.

The state’s Ralph Civil Rights Act offers those protections from violence to persons based on their race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, political affiliation or gender.

Lowenthal contended both this year and last year when she carried a nearly identical bill – vetoed by then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger – that violence against the homeless would fall if the legal consequences of atacking them were greater.

The homeless are most likely to be targets of violence, Lowenthal says. Last year, homeless persons were set on fire, stabbed, shot and beaten with baseball bats.

California has the second-highest rate of violence against the homeless in the nation, according to Lowenthal.

Her bill contains a caveat that by adding the homeless to the list of classes protected from violence doesn’t increase or shrink the legal responsibilities of an owner of rental or commercial property to protect the homeless person from violence if the homeless person is on their property.

Lowenthal defines a homeless person as someone who ”does not have a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.”

Or a homeless person can be someone who has a nighttime residence but one that is a shelter – including “welfare hotels, congregate shelters and transitional housing.”

Schwarzenegger’s veto message for Lowenthal’s measure last year included this passage:

“It is unclear whether the homeless are targeted for violence because they are homeless or because they possess a characteristic already protected by the California’s hate crime statute, such as mental or physical disability.  “Furthermore, poverty — unlike race, gender, national origin and disability — is not a suspect classification.”



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