Both chambers of the Georgia legislature have approved legislation adding hate crime statutes to the Georgia code and the measure now heads to the Governor’s desk for signature.
House Bill 426 had a long path to passage, beginning back in 2019. The Senate, led by
Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, refused to take up the bill during the 2019 legislative session and the first half of the 2020 session. It was not until the death of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick made headlines across the country that Duncan decided to give consideration to the legislation due to the political environment that gave way for his support.
The Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, and Georgia Power had all professed their support of the measure in recent weeks.
The bill was revived last week when lawmakers returned to the Capitol after a three month COVID-induced hiatus and Duncan held a press conference seeking to overhaul the legislation all on his own. Duncan sought to include veteran status, homelessness, those exercising their First Amendment, and those participating in civil rights activities to the list of protected people – though he garnered little support for his idea.
HB 426 briefly lost support from Democrats and anti-police activists late last week when a Senate committee added ‘law enforcement officers’ to the long list of protected classes under the provision. The language was removed Tuesday and added into its own bill Tuesday – HB 838, which creates a Peace Officers Bill of Rights.
The final version provides sentencing guidelines for anyone who commits a crime based on race, sex, sexual orientation, color, religion, national origin, mental disability, or physical disability. The guidelines would apply for felonies and in misdemeanor offenses of simple assault, simple battery, criminal trespass, battery, and misdemeanor theft.
The measure passed the House in a vote of 127-38. In the Senate, the measure passed 47-6.
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Governor Kemp has already said he will sign the measure, pending legal review.
Democratic Party of Georgia Chairwoman Nikema Williams issued the following statement on the Georgia legislature finally passing hate crimes legislation after 14 years:
“Today, the Georgia legislature finally passed a hate crimes bill, after tireless work from advocates across Georgia, and more than a few delays and stunts from Georgia Republicans to hijack this bill. We are thrilled that this 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.
We also will not soon forget that before Senate Republicans agreed to vote on this bill, they forced through a bill adding law enforcement as a protected class under Georgia’s hate crimes statute — despite the fact that law enforcement officers are already given additional protections under the law, and are all too often at the center of violence against the marginalized Georgians that the hate crimes law is looking to protect.
This is only the first step in seeking justice and accountability for vulnerable Georgians. When Georgia Democrats take back the House this fall, we will demand more from our leaders, and keep working for a justice system that truly protects every person in our state.”