Georgia’s lack of any kind of law to prosecute hate crimes came under renewed scrutiny following the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in March. After years of failed legislation, the state has finally passed a bill that will allow the prosecution of hate crimes.
CBS News reports that on Tuesday afternoon the Georgia state legislature passed HB426 by a 47-6 vote in the state Senate and 127-38 in the state House. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) said he intends to sign the bill pending legal review. The bill will require harsher sentencing for crimes committed due to a person’s “actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability, or physical disability.” This could mean longer prison sentences or added fines in addition to the sentencing that would normally result from the crime committed.
From CBS News:
Previous efforts to pass a hate crimes bill in the state have faltered. The Georgia general assembly in 2000 passed a hate crimes bill that called for enhanced sentencing for crimes motivated by “bias or prejudice,” but in 2004, the bill was struck down by the Georgia Supreme Court as unconstitutionally vague. HB 426, crafted with more specific language, gained bipartisan support and narrowly passed the Georgia House last year. But it stalled in a Senate committee before the legislature adjourned over coronavirus concerns in March.
Since Arbery’s killing there’s been a “newfound resurgence of interest in making sure Georgia gets this on the books,” Georgia Representative Karen Bennett, chairwoman of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, told CBS News last month. When the legislature resumed this month, advocates backing the bill gathered at the state capitol, holding up signs showing Arbery and George Floyd, the black man whose death in police custody in Minnesota sparked national outrage and protests.
Multiple state senators took the floor to describe their experiences with racial discrimination. Democratic Sen. Donzella Jones, a Black woman, detailed her childhood experiences of white students calling her racial slurs and an instance where a bottle was thrown at her while she waited for a bus. “It’s time for Georgia to rise up and show that we will not stand for crimes done out of hate. Yes, we cannot legislate love, but we can put stronger penalties in place that may deter those who are committing these crimes from doing it,” Jones said.
While this a positive development, it’s one that took entirely too long—it shouldn’t have taken so much Black death for Republican legislators to finally take action. “We are thrilled that this [hate crimes] law has finally passed after years of advocacy, but let’s be clear — we will not forget that this bill only came to light after 14 years of delays under Republican leadership, the murder of black men before our eyes, and the pain of marginalized communities across our state,” the Democratic Party of Georgia echoed in a statement.
Senate Republicans drew controversy when they attempted to add an amendment to the bill that would add hate crime protections for cops. Those opposed argued that cops and first responders are already granted numerous protections under the law and it undermines the symbolic purpose of the bill to combat hate against marginalized communities, especially given that law enforcement is often responsible for the violence inflicted upon said communities.
The amendment was struck from the bill in a bipartisan compromise yet was included in HB838, a separate bill that was also passed on Tuesday and includes protections for first responders who are targeted due to their line of work. The Georgia Democrats said that HB838 was “forced through” the state House by Republicans.
Should the bill be signed into law, South Carolina, Wyoming and Arkansas will be the only states without hate crime laws, CBS notes. The Anti-Defamation League also places Indiana on that list, calling the measure it passed last year “problematically broad.”