Crimes prompted because a person is transgender could be eligible for harsher penalties under a bill moving forward in the Nevada Legislature.
SB180 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee 4-3 along party lines Thursday. It would add offenses based on one's "gender identity or expression" to a list of hate crimes that already includes crimes motivated by sexual orientation, and could tack one to 20 years of prison time to a sentence.
Supporters from Equality Nevada, who in previous hearings had described murders, rapes and disparaging slurs toward transgender people, said Thursday's move was a step of progress for transgender Nevadans.
"We have something on the table early in a very busy legislative session," said Equality Nevada Executive Director Lauren Scott. "It's a win, as far as I'm concerned."
National organizers of the Transgender Day of Remembrance estimate 15 people are killed each year in the U.S. in attacks motivated by their transgender identity.
Republicans said they opposed the bill because it elevates one group of victims above others. Las Vegas Republican Sen. Michael Roberson said the term "gender identity" was too broad and could open the door for lawsuits based on anything that expresses a person's gender.
SB180 defines gender identity or expression as "a gender-related identity, appearance, expression or behavior of a person, regardless of the person's assigned sex at birth."
Death penalty foes triumphed with an amendment keeping transgender hate crime charges off the list of "aggravations" that can push a defendant closer to capital punishment.
Existing law allows other types of hate crimes - including ones motivated by race, religion, or sexual orientation - to attach aggravations to charges, but opposition over the mention of the death penalty threatened to sink the bill.
"This bill wasn't about the death penalty," said Nancy Hart of the Nevada Coalition Against the Death Penalty, which includes people who object to capital punishment on moral or economic grounds. "But as we move forward, we want to recognize that the rights of these special classes of people don't simultaneously violate other human rights."
SB180 is sponsored by Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, and six other Democratic lawmakers.
The bill now heads for a vote on the Senate floor.