The Montgomery County Council, faced with a startling increase in the number of cross burnings, swastika paintings and other incidents motivated by racial or religious intolerance, yesterday passed emergency laws that create a $50,000 tipsters fund to aid in arrests and establish civil fines for perpetrators.
The two new laws were approved unanimously and, as emergency measures, become effective immediately. Council members repeatedly referred to Montgomery's statewide record of 150 "hate violence" incidents so far this year -- double the number this time last year -- and of the pressing need to send some kind of signal that the county plans a new, get-tough approach, beyond the current monitoring program.
"This is on the cutting edge of new law, and will hopefully restore Montgomery County to its rightful place, where no such incidents take place," said council member Esther P. Gelman.
What the council wants, said member Michael Gudis, "is a convincing set of laws that tells would-be perpetrators 'you will be caught and you will be punished,' and thereby eliminates such incidents from our county."
The first bill, which Gudis sponsored, would make those persons convicted of racial or religious intimidation liable for $2,000 in civil fines. Half of that money would be paid to the victim, and the other half would go to the county for deposit in a special "anti-hate/violence fund." Judges are allowed to alter those amounts.
The bill also makes parents liable for civil damages up to $5,000 for juveniles who commit hate violence activities. Judges may decide if the juvenile-perpetrator should himself be forced to pay, whether the parents should pay, or whether the youth should be forced to perform some kind of "alternative community service" in restitution for the crime.
"This bill, for the first time, makes [people] civilly liable when they commit these acts of terrorism," Gudis said. "It was only a secondary purpose of this bill to make the parent liable."
The law also states that if the prosecutor does not obtain the $2,000 during the course of a criminal proceeding, and the victim sues separately for damages, then the county's Human Relations Commission can adjudicate the suit.
The second bill, proposed by council member David L. Scull, establishes the anti-hate/violence fund with an initial $50,000 appropriation from the county's general fund. Tipsters who give police information leading to the apprehension of suspects in these hate incidents could receive awards of up to $1,000.
That fund is patterned after the county's highly successful crimesolvers fund, which now provides similar rewards to tipsters who have information about serious crimes.