Tuesday afternoon, the Georgia State Legislature was able to pass House Bill 426, colloquially known as “The Hate Crimes Bill” through both chambers. The bill is headed to Governor Brian P. Kemp’s desk, where he will likely sign it into law. Prior to passage, Georgia was one of four states (Arkansas, South Carolina and Wyoming) that do not have hate crime laws. Seventeen states and Puerto Rico have hate crime laws but don’t require data collection on such crimes. This bill does require reporting of all hate crimes to the law enforcement entitled, “Bias Crime Report.” Those reports will be furnished by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
According to the bill, its purpose is defined as a crime involving bias or prejudice because of a victim’s perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability, or physical disability.
If a person is convicted of a misdemeanor charge, it carries a 6-12 month sentence. A felony conviction carries a minimum two-year sentence.
“At a time when our nation feels so divided, Georgia is bringing forth a moment of unity,” Duncan said. “The Senate legislation builds on the great work done by the House, and it includes input from a diverse coalition of leaders. This collaborative effort has produced a strong, meaningful hate crimes bill that protects people in targeted groups and sends a strong statement about our values.”
While most Republicans were patting themselves on the back for getting House Bill 426 across the finish line, Speaker of the House David Ralston admitted there was renewed support to get the bill passed once the video of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder surfaced during the coronavirus-induced recess. The House originally passed this bill in March 2019 only for it to languish in a Senate committee.
“The video of the Arbury murder was the evidence for a lot of people that we needed this kind of bill,” Ralston said. “I listened to one of the defendant’s vile and disgusting comments after he shot Mr. Arbery three times in close range with a shotgun. There were a lot of people that were shocked into the reality that this is hate.”
Gov. Brian Kemp’s office said in a statement that the governor “commends the General Assembly’s bipartisan work and will sign House Bill 426 pending legal review.”
“My family thanks everyone for not letting my son’s death be in vain. I know he is still with us and this law is evidence of that and I look forward to being present when it is signed,” Cooper-Jones said.
Additionally, the Georgia NAACP voiced their pleasure with the passage of the Hate Crimes Bill.
“We are grateful to Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov Geoff Duncan for working with the civil rights community to create a statute that protects Black Georgians from hateful bigotry,” said Rev. James Woodall, State President of the Georgia NAACP.
“I’d like to add Speaker Ralston’s leadership helped us to carry the day,” exclaimed a tearful Rep. Calvin Smyer, D-Columbus. “His ability to get the job done gave us the latitude for us to work closer together. I’ve been in the House for forty-six years and I’ve seen a lot. I’ve had a lot of moments in my career. But, today is the finest.”
Smyer was a co-sponsor of the bill.
“I had many ups and downs and I remember voting for Hate Crime legislation in 2000. With all that’s going on in our state and in America, I drove four and a half hours to Brunswick to meet with the Arbery family and to attend a rally. I arrived with an open heart. I later texted the Speaker and I think we’re close.”
The passing of Georgia’s Hate Crimes Bill arrived during the time Rayshard Brooks’s funeral was taking place at Ebenezer Baptist Church and House Bill 838 passed through the Legislature which is loosely titled, the “Police Bill of Rights.” It contains the following:
“…so as to enact a bill of rights for peace officers under investigation; to provide for interrogation procedures; to provide for compliance review panels; to provide for the right to bring suit; to provide for the right of notice of disciplinary action; to provide for limitations of disciplinary actions; to provide for bias-motivated by intimidation against first responders.”
State Rep. Bee Nguyen said via social media, “the passage of the Hate Crimes bill has been tainted by the passage of the Police Bill of Rights Bill. Law enforcement will now be considered a protected class under HB 838. Georgia Republicans knew exactly what they were doing.”
Last week, Senate Republicans attempted to add police as a protected class to the hate crimes legislation. But, in a last-minute bid to gain approval, the parties agreed to move those protections to a separate bill.
According to Speaker Ralston, citizens arrest laws will be evaluated during the summer and has a great chance of becoming a bill in next year’s legislative session.