Maine The governor of Maine signed legislation Thursday to stiffen the penalty for those convicted of attacking homeless people.
The measure - said to be the first law of its kind in the country - gives judges the flexibility to add additional incarceration time in such crimes. It comes amid a recent nationwide spike in violence against the homeless.
"Maine is leading the nation in protecting homeless people," Democratic Gov. John Baldacci said in the capital of Augusta on Thursday. "This legislation sends a message that some of Maine's most vulnerable citizens are not preyed upon simply because they don't have a roof over their heads."
Michael Stoops, director of the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington, called the legislation "an important and symbolic statement" - adding that similar efforts are pending in Massachusetts and Florida. A comparable bill in Maryland recently failed to pass by a single vote, he said.
Violent attacks captured on videotape in Florida and San Francisco in recent weeks have added to the impetus to provide protection for the homeless, Stoops said.
In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Jan. 12, Stoops said, a teenager clubbed a homeless person with a baseball bat. Last month, three young men in San Francisco were videotaped as they beat and kicked a homeless person at a downtown bus stop.