RICHMOND, Va. -- While conflicting reports swirl about whether or not the shooter at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida was involved with a white nationalist group, the Attorney General of Virginia is upset that lawmakers failed to take action on a proposal aimed at prevent violence by hate groups.
Attorney General Mark Herring proposed establishing a "domestic terrorism" statute in Virginia to allow local and state police to identify and track hate groups and their members, but HB 1601 never even got a hearing at the General Assembly, Herring said.
There are nearly 50 hate groups operating in Virginia, and the number of hate crimes are on the rise, according the AG's Office. While Herring admits the investigation into the Florida school shooter is incomplete, he was shocked Virginia lawmakers did not take action on his proposal considering the events in Charlottesville last August.
An Associated Press report linked the Stoneman Douglas shooter to a white supremacist group in Tallahassee, Florida, but authorities have since said they have no evidence yet that the shooter was linked to any hate groups.
Groups like the ACLU of Virginia oppose establishing a domestic terrorism statute in Virginia, arguing it was too broad and would give law enforcement too much room track citizens without much evidence they are a threat.
"Though HB 1601 seeks to address the scourge of white supremacy, it raises significant constitutional concerns and would entrench in Virginia a framework that has been used at the federal level to target minority communities for discriminatory investigation, surveillance, and prosecution—and make it worse, by creating a new, overly-broad category of 'domestic terrorist organizations,'" the ACLU of Virginia wrote in a January blog post.
Herring disputed the claim in an interview with CBS 6.
"It borrows a framework that we're already using to combat gangs in Virginia, so we're taking a framework that law enforcement, lawyers, and civil rights groups are familiar with," Herring said.
Although the legislation is dead for the 2018 session, the Attorney General said victims of hate crimes can report threats and find helpful resources at www.nohateva.com.