LANSING — As co-chairmen of the legislative Disabilities Awareness Caucus, state Rep. Frank Liberati and state Sen. Rick Jones have introduced bipartisan legislation that would increase penalties for assaulting an individual with a developmental disability.

“As a board member and longtime volunteer of the Michigan Special Olympics, I find it horrific that someone would knowingly assault a person with special needs,” said Jones (R-Grand Ledge). “People with disabilities can often have difficulty caring for themselves and protecting themselves. We must crack down hard on the kind of criminal who would assault a person with a disability.”

House Bills 5728 and 5729 and Senate Bills 1017 and 1018 aim to prevent harm to individuals with disabilities by creating a harsher punishment for those who know of a person’s disability and are guilty of assault or assault and battery on that person.

Under the bills, a first offense for someone convicted of assaulting an individual with a developmental disability and knowing that individual has a disability would be guilty of a misdemeanor and face up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. Subsequent offenses would result in felony charges punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.

“Not only does this legislation increase penalties for assault of a person with a disability, it gets to the bigger issue of needing to create a culture of respect and dignity,” said Liberati (D-Allen Park). “It is time to show this community has a voice and through this legislation they will be heard.”

The Disabilities Awareness Caucus is a bipartisan, bicameral effort that focuses its attention on policy issues facing those with a disability.