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Georgia Legislature approves hate crime bill

Maggie Lee
Capitol Views by Kelly Jordan
Georgia’s state Capitol. Credit: Kelly Jordan

By Maggie Lee

The Georgia state House and Senate have agreed to a law that would impose higher penalties for some crimes motivated by hatred of a victim’s race, gender or any of a list of other characteristics.

“Today we have said we will not be defined by a senseless act of evil and by the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, but that our Georgia is better than this,” said Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, just as his chamber voted 127-38 to pass House Bill 426 Tuesday.

Republican sponsorship of the bill and some Republicans crossing party lines to vote with Democrats are what got the bill passed, both Tuesday, as well as last year when a smaller amount of aisle-crossing resulted in passage of an earlier bill version. The bill sat without a hearing in the Senate until this year.

That is, until the anger and exhaustion provoked by the shooting of black jogger Arbery and other Black Americans put pressure on lawmakers.

“We’ve worked on this for years,” said state Sen. Horacena Tate, D-Atlanta, just before the Senate’s 47-6 vote. “I’m glad we’ve finally gotten together.”

Georgia used to have a hate crimes law, but it was struck down by the state Supreme Court in 2004 for for being vague.  During most legislative terms since then, one or more Democrats have filed unsuccessful hate crimes legislation. This successful bill was carried by Gwinnett Republican state Rep. Chuck Efstration.

Under the proposed new law, a hate crime charge could add more than two years to felonies.  The bill covers five misdemeanors as well: simple assault, simple battery, battery, criminal trespass and theft by taking. The additional misdemeanor penalties could include up to a year’s imprisonment.

It applies to crimes motivated by hate of a victim’s actual or perceived “race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability, or physical disability.”

The House and Senate seemed to be at an impasse as late as Monday, as a state Senate committee had insisted on making police a class protected by hate crimes law. But the full Senate approved a version that doesn’t speak to police.

The bill now heads to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk. Soon after the House vote, Kemp’s communications director tweeted that Kemp “commends the General Assembly’s bipartisan work and will sign House Bill 426 pending legal review.”

 

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Maggie Lee
Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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