On Tuesday, Senate Democrats punted on a bill that would have criminalized the act of misgendering a person or addressing them by the wrong pronouns as “hate speech.”

Instead, in an extremely unusual maneuver, the Democrats brought to the floor a previously abandoned substitute bill that specifically excluded misgendering pronouns as a hate crime after significant pushback from Republicans and the increasing unpopularity of President Joe Biden’s reelection chances in the state.

Go Ad-Free, Get Content, Go Premium Today - $1 Trial

Some of those concerns include the negative national attention garnered by similar bills passed last June in the Michigan House, which critics derided as violating First Amendment freedoms of speech.

As a result, the bill as passed on Tuesday includes the previously deleted substitution that reads: “The act of intentionally or unintentionally referencing or referring to another individual by using pronouns that are perceived to be incorrect or nonpreferred by that individual does not constitute a hate crime.”

Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, had added portions of that substitution eventually brought to a vote in committee, but Democrats stripped it from the bill before Tuesday’s vote before reinserting it prior to Tuesday night’s vote.

However, Democrats omitted the phrase “and cannot be used as evidence (of a hate crime)” from Runestad’s original substitution for the bill.

Go Ad-Free, Get Content, Go Premium Today - $1 Trial

Runestad’s Chief of Staff Kevin Mulligan told The Midwesterner in an email the omitted phrase “is an important distinction, since we were far more concerned about the usage of wrong pronouns being utilized to escalate a crime into a hate crime (which carries greater penalties).”

Mulligan also noted the substitution included some of Runestad’s language that added the U.S. Supreme Court’s definition of the phrase “reckless disregard.”

The bill passed late Tuesday night by a 20-15 vote, with all Democrats voting for the bill and all Republicans voting against it. Three senators were either excused or did not vote.

Senate Bill 601 was introduced last October by Sen. Sylvia Santana, D-Detroit. The aim of the bill was to significantly expand Michigan’s hate crime bill from ethnic intimidation to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Santana’s bill significantly changes PA 371 by expanding the definition and penalties for criminal threats, and increases the penalties for criminal threats related to the victim’s race, color, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or national origin.

According to SB 601: “[A] a person is guilty of criminal threatening if that person intentionally or knowingly threatens by word or conduct to commit against another individual or group of individuals an unlawful act of violence or to damage the property of another individual or group of individuals in a manner that would cause a reasonable individual to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or fearful and that actually causes the victim or victims to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or placed in fear.”

A first offense is classified as a misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to one year in prison and no more than a $1,000 fine, or both. A repeat offense would be considered a felony, which could result in up to two years in prison, a $2,000 fine, or both prison time and fines.

Harsher penalties would be meted out for individuals working in concert with one or more individuals or attacks committed on minors by an individual 19 or older, which could result in a maximum four years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine. If there is use or possession of a firearm or other dangerous weapon during the committing of a hate crime, the penalties could result in six years imprisonment and/or a $7,500 fine.

Additionally, property damages incurred as a result of a hate crime could be compensated by three times the actual damages or $5,000 in a civil cause of action.

According to the Senate Fiscal Agency, any fines raised from the penalties would be increase funding to the state’s public libraries.

The SFA also concluded that passage of the bill “could have a negative fiscal impact on the State and local government. More felony arrests and convictions could increase resource demands on law enforcement, court systems, community supervision, jails, and correctional facilities.”

The SFA continued: “Based on 2022 data, the average cost to State government for felony probation supervision is approximately $4,800 per probationer per year. For any increase in prison intakes the average annual cost of housing a prisoner in a State correctional facility is an estimated $45,700. Per diem rates for housing a prisoner in a State correctional facility range from $98 to $192 per day, depending on the security level of the facility.”

Prior to the Senate vote on Tuesday, Runestad shared a video in which he noted what he described as the hastiness of the Democrats’ hate crimes bill.

“In committee, I put forward a bunch of reasonable amendments to fix some of the garbage language provisions in this bill,” Runestad said. “Every one of them was shot down by the Democrats.”

Calling the previous iteration of the bill tyrannical, Runestad said the bill as passed by the Senate doesn’t require the burden-of-proof language determined by the U.S. Supreme Court, which established that, for a true threat to exist, there must be “a clear delineation must be proven between the statement and conduct and between harm and threatening,” he said.

Runestad also attempted to add an amendment that would allow courts leeway to reduce the charges by 20% if determined reasonable by a judge. He also authored an unsuccessful amendment that he calls the Jussie Smollett Amendment, after the homosexual actor convicted of faking his own beating in Chicago. Runestad’s amendment would make individuals making false hate crime accusations susceptible to the same penalties faced by those whom they falsely accused.

“So there you have it: More weaponization of our court system by the modern party of tyranny,” Runestad said.

The bill now moves to the Michigan House.