Massachusetts Gets New Laws on Hate Crimes, Kosher Labeling

Two unrelated issues of serious concern to Jews were addressed by outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis before he left office last week.

Among his last official acts, the governor, who was the 1988 Democratic presidential candidate, signed into law on Dec. 28 the Hate Crimes Reporting Act, which will require law enforcement agencies in the state to keep detailed records of bias-related crimes.

On his final day of office, Jan. 2, he signed a consumer protection bill specifically aimed at protecting consumers of kosher foods and products by tightening regulations on their labeling, display and sale.

Massachusetts was, in 1882, the first state in the Union to adopt laws protecting the kosher consumer. But the legislation had not been revised since 1929.

One of the provisions of the new law increases the fines for mislabeling or misrepresenting non-kosher foods to between $500 and $2,000. Previously fines had ranged from $10 to $100.

The Hate Crimes Reporting Act, which goes into effect 90 days after its signing, provides the police and district attorneys with another tool to fight crimes of hate and prejudice in Massachusetts.

In addition to having two of the strongest anti-hate statutes in the country, the Commonwealth will now have data-gathering requirements that could advance efforts to eliminate such crimes.

“It will give us a much better idea of where they are happening in the state, how severe they are, which groups are being targeted most frequently and which communities are hit most often,” said Sally Greenberg, civil rights counsel for the New England region of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.

RISE IN EXTREMIST ACTIVITY

The bill requires police officers investigating criminal acts motivated by bias or bigotry based on race, religion, disability or sexual orientation to fill out a form describing the incident.

The forms will be sent to the Crime Reporting Unit of the Department of Public Safety, where the information will be compiled and analyzed in an annual report.

“Right now, we have no statistics,” said Greenberg, “aside from what specific groups and some police units gather. This bill will be very useful. It brings a consciousness to hate crimes. It’s a data-collection device to give us much more information.”

Preliminary statistics for 1990 indicate that hate crimes in Massachusetts did not increase by the staggering 1989 rise of 171 percent over 1988.

However, 1990 brought Holocaust revisionists and Ku Klux Klansmen into the limelight more often than in the recent past, observed Greenberg, who views this as an indication of extremist activity.

“The Organization of New England Revisionists meets in Burlington, Mass., regularly, and Tom Herman, a Klansman and former policeman, have been active this year. These are trends,” she said.

Although ADL is still compiling figures for 1990. Greenberg believes that the numbers of incidents have increased from 1989.

The kosher food bill was sponsored by State Rep. John Businger and Rabbi Rachmiel Liberman, executive director of the Lubavitch-Jewish Educational Center in Brookline.

The law prohibits fraud and dece###ion in stores and restaurants with respect to ###abeling and selling kosher foods and products.For example, foods labeled “kosher-style” or “Jewish-style” will have to reveal in large type that the product is “non-kosher.” The law mandates more stringent requirements for advertising and labeling “kosher for Passover” foods.

The state Attorney General’s Office will be responsible for enforcing the legislation.

NEXT STORY