Georgia leader proposes expanded version of hate crimes law

Jun 17, 2020

Georgia’s lieutenant governor is proposing his own version of a hate crimes law for the state

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia's lieutenant governor proposed his own version of a hate crimes law Wednesday, calling on lawmakers to protect broad categories from bias crimes, including people victimized because of their culture and exercising First Amendment rights including worship, free speech and assembly.

Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan made the proposal after days of pressure by House lawmakers, business leaders and community activists to move on giving Georgia a state hate crimes law again. A previous effort was found unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court more than a decade ago.

“This is the right time and the right place in history for Georgia to lead on this,” Duncan said.

Advocates have long been seeking to renew Georgia's law penalizing hate crimes. That push intensified after the February slaying of Ahmaud Arbery near Brunswick. Investigators have said that one of the white men charged in the case uttered a racial slur after chasing Arbery down and shooting him.

Georgia's House passed a simpler and more conventional measure last year. House Bill 426 would add penalties to crimes committed because of someone’s race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability. A person found guilty of a hate crime would be sentenced to an extra three to 12 months for misdemeanor and an extra two years or more for a felony.

That bill has been stalled in a Senate committee for more than a year, blocked by a chairman who opposed the concept. Duncan himself was lukewarm until recent days.

Duncan's bill would create a free-standing law and expand that protection to include age, ancestry, creed, culture, ethnicity, homelessness, sex, armed forces veteran status, having been involved in civil rights activities or having exercised the rights protected by the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment including free speech, free press, assembly or petition of government.

The measure would create the felony crime of bias motivated intimidation when a person is slain or seriously physically injured or their property is damaged because they are a member of a protected category. It would be punishable by one to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. Any sentence would be added atop a conviction for related crimes, making it function as an enhancement.

Anyone victimized would be able to bring a civil lawsuit for actual damages under Duncan's plan. When someone reports a hate crime, it would have to be reported to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation whether someone is charged or convicted or not.

Several African American leaders from the House, speaking immediately after Duncan, opposed his ambitious plan, saying that with only eight business days left in the session it jeopardizes the effort to pass any bill at all. They say they prefer the House bill.