June 29, 2020
After years of effort, the Georgia legislature passed, and on June 26 Gov. Brian Kemp signed, a hate crimes bill, giving prosecutors and courts a new tool to punish defendants found to have acted with bias in committing a crime.
The new law, which took effect July 1, “does not fix every problem or right every wrong,” but is a step forward for “a state too great to hate,” Kemp said as he signed the bill during a ceremony at the state capitol.
The measure known as HB (House Bill) 426 was overwhelmingly approved June 23, first by the state Senate (47-6) and then by the House (127-38).
Under the law, the sentence given for a conviction on a misdemeanor or felony could be increased if the defendant is found to have acted with bias because of the victim’s race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, mental disability or physical disability. Up to 12 months imprisonment and a fine of up to $5,000 now can be added to the sentence for a misdemeanor conviction and up to two years imprisonment to the sentence for a felony conviction.
The effort to get the bill passed dated back to 2004, when the state Supreme Court threw out a law passed in 2000 as “unconstitutionally vague” because it did not specify protected groups.
The bill signing capped years of efforts by the Hate Free Georgia Coalition, a group of 35 nonprofits assembled by the Anti-Defamation League, which has crafted model legislation on which most states’ statutes are based.
With the new Georgia law, only three states – Arkansas, South Carolina and Wyoming – remained without some sort of hate crimes statute. (Indiana has a law that the ADL and others consider too weak to be effective.)
In urging Kemp to sign the bill, Allison Padilla-Goodman, vice president of the ADL’s Southeast region, said, “ADL applauds and thanks the House, Senate and their leadership for working across party lines to enact HB 426. Georgians need protections against hate crimes, which target victims simply for who they are and terrorize entire communities.”