Wednesday morning, Georgia’s Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan introduced a Hate Crimes Bill that has not been on Georgia’s books in sixteen years. Duncan worked late into the night Tuesday putting it together while differentiating it from House Bill 426, currently stuck in neutral inside a Senate committee.
Essentially, Duncan’s bill would make a hate crime a standalone charge instead of an additional enhancement to another crime.
Similar to the House version, new penalties for crimes motivated by age, gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation would be added. The differences are “culture,” “exercise of religious beliefs” and “exercising rights guaranteed by the First Amendment” are protected classes.
Moreover, Duncan’s bill would allow members of the community to file a warrant to force a grand jury hearing for a hate-crime charge if a prosecutor doesn’t initially do so. The charges would carry a penalty of 1-5 years under the proposal.
“This is the right time and the right place in Georgia to lead on this,” Duncan said. “We wouldn’t be the state we are today if it wasn’t for the bold leadership of a few to bring on board the many. This is an awesome opportunity for Georgia to lead on this issue.”
Duncan’s bill also includes a demand for law enforcement to track hate crimes in a state-controlled database.
Georgia is one of five states without such a law, and powerful corporate and political leaders have increased the pressure on state leaders to act.
About 500 business executives urged legislators to rally behind a “comprehensive” measure. Former President Jimmy Carter and ex-Governors Nathan Deal and Roy Barnes are supportive of a Hate Crimes Bill.
Meanwhile, House Democrats swiftly pushed back against the timing of Duncan’s proposal, saying with eight days remaining in the legislative session is not enough time to vet the new legislation.
“It is an insult to our intelligence for this man to say today he has a change of conscience,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman James Beverly of Macon. “Well, if you have a change of conscious let (House Bill) 426 go through. If you want to do another bill, do the bill. And let us look at it for consideration.”
Additionally, House Minority Whip James Boddie of East Point said the original bill is good enough.
“The LGBTQ+ community wants this bill, the black caucus wants this bill, the House Democratic Caucus wants this bill, and even the speaker of the House wants this bill.”
House Speaker David Ralston re-opened the session demanding the Senate pass House Bill 426. However, if Duncan’s bill comes to a vote, many Republicans would be quick to criticize it, beliving it wouldn’t be evenly applied across the state.
“Every victim deserves justice,” said State Rep. Philip Singleton, R-Sharpsburg. “This should be equal under the law and not subject to the subjective judgment of the judicial system.”
While Republicans bicker over the merits of both versions of the Hate Crimes Bill, the Georgia NAACP lobbed a criticism of Duncan’s bill on social media Wednesday morning.
“During a time when people are literally dying, being murdered and lynched every single day, it is a shame knowing @GeoffDuncanGA nor anyone from his office ever reached out to ask for our input,” the organization said on Twitter. “This bill does not address the demands our organization nor @AJustGeorgia created based on what the communities in Brunswick, Cuthbert, Statesboro, and so many others demand after seeing their neighbors murdered by law enforcement and racist vigilantes.”
After a protest organized by the Georgia NAACP saw more than 3,000 people march from the Richard B. Russell Building to the Georgia State Capitol June 15th and members of the NAACP protest inside of the rotunda, civil rights activists repeated their demand of repealing the stand your ground laws. That is not addressed in both versions of Hate Crimes bills put forth by Georgia Republicans.
“Until these demands are heard, we cannot trust that this legislation will end the systemic racism in the judicial system,” said the NAACP in a statement. “We need legislation that holds law enforcement, local, and state elected officials accountable to ensure Black lives like Ahmaud Arbery and Jimmy Atchison hold immediate consequences at the prosecutorial and judicial level. Creating a Hate Crime Bill that increased the mandatory minimum by just two years is a waste of time and furthermore oppresses the advancement of African Americans in this state. We will continue to see happen until white supremacy is completely abolished.”