New Jersey lawmaker wants hate crime law to protect journalists

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New Jersey’s hate crime law could soon protect a new group of people: journalists.

State Sen. Dick Codey (D-Essex) on Thursday introduced a bill, NJ S3602, that would add “members of the press or media” to the list of protected classes covered under New Jersey’s bias intimidation law.

Codey said in a phone interview that he introduced the legislation after seeing the heated rhetoric against journalists by former President Donald Trump, who often called reporters who wrote critical articles “enemies of the people.”

“I just thought it was the right time. People are super sensitive and we need to protect the free press,” Codey said. “It makes a statement, more about intimidation than anything.”

The bill is modeled after a similar proposal in Florida, which faced backlash from journalists there.

Codey, who served as an unelected governor from November 2004 to January 2006 after former Gov. Jim McGreevey’s resignation, has generally had a friendly relationship with the press. But one notable exception was his near physical brawl with a “shock jock” radio host who made fun of postpartum depression, a condition that Codey’s wife had experienced. "I wish I weren’t governor. I’d take you out," Codey told the host, Craig Carton, during the 2005 exchange.

Context: New Jersey’s bias intimidation law currently adds penalties to crimes committed with the intent to intimidate people based on “race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, [or] ethnicity.” The law would be updated to include reporters and news photographers on that list. No other professions are included in the law.

During the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, reporters were attacked and threatened. Other reporters, especially women, have faced harassment online.

“The press will disagree with you and it is what it is. But some people go over the line,” Codey said.

But the Florida proposal was not popular with local journalists on social media, some of whom noted that becoming a journalist, unlike the other protected classes, is a choice. “We don’t need this,” tweeted Orlando Sentinel reporter Desiree Stennett. “If you want to help journalists, expand public records laws.”

What’s next? It’s not clear if the bill, which has not been introduced in the state Assembly, will have any juice in the Senate.

The New Jersey Press Association does not currently have a stance on the measure. Its president, Asbury Park Press Executive Editor Paul D’Ambrosio, said in an email that the association would have to review and discuss the bill in committee.

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