Georgia Legislature Approves Hate Crimes Bill
Jewish groups, notably the Anti-Defamation League, played an integral role in years of lobbying for passage of a law recognizing bias in determining sentence.
Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.
The office of Gov. Brian Kemp said that the governor “commends the General Assembly’s bipartisan work and will sign House Bill 426 [hates crimes bill] pending legal review.”
Under the measure overwhelmingly approved Tuesday, first by the state Senate (47-6) and then by the House (127-38), 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 could be added to the sentence for a misdemeanor conviction and up to two years imprisonment to the sentence for a felony conviction.
Jewish organizations were among those celebrating passage of the legislation. Tuesday’s definitive votes were a victory for the Hate Free Georgia Coalition, a group of 35 nonprofits assembled by the Anti-Defamation League, which has invested many years effort and crafted model legislation on which most states’ statutes are based.
When the Georgia measure is signed into law, three states – Arkansas, South Carolina and Wyoming – will remain the only ones without some sort of hate crimes statute.
“ADL applauds and thanks the House, Senate and their leadership for working across party lines to enact HB 426,” Allison Padilla-Goodman, vice president of the ADL’s Southern Division, said in a statement. “Georgians need protections against hate crimes, which target victims simply for who they are and terrorize entire communities. It’s high time for our State join the other 45 with hate crime laws, and we urge Governor Kemp to immediately sign this critical piece of legislation into law.”
Speaking to the AJT, Padilla-Goodman cited in particular Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, and James “Major” Woodall, president of the Georgia NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) for their efforts.
Harold Kirtz, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta, praised the ADL’s leadership. “The Jewish community as well as many other communities will benefit from this legislation in several ways. One is through the backing of the state in fighting hate crimes, including those crimes that result from anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, and anti-immigrant feelings. We now have the state working to protect communities that have traditionally been targeted for who they are, including Jews. Additionally, this will contribute towards the education of the larger community that certain behaviors will not be acceptable,” Kirtz told the AJT.
Dov Wilker, regional director of the American Jewish Committee office in Atlanta, said “The passage of a hate crimes bill in Georgia is essential to protecting the rights of all minorities in our state. The reporting element of the bill will enable government and law enforcement to better support our diverse community. By passing in both the Georgia Senate and House, the state of Georgia is demonstrating the seriousness, with which it takes this issue.”
The effort to get the bill passed dates back to 2004, when the state Supreme Court threw out a Georgia law passed in 2000 as “unconstitutionally vague” because it did not specify protected groups.
On its way to passage, the bill survived the addition and then the removal of elements that might have doomed its chances. The original version of the bill, known as HB 426, had cleared the House in March 2019 and languished in the Senate until recently. This being the second year of the legislature’s two-year cycle, failure to pass the measure this year would have meant starting over when the General Assembly reconvenes in January 2021.
In recent days, Senate Republicans added police and first responders as a protected class under the legislation but agreed to move that provision to another bill. The revised version of HB 426 passed Tuesday added a mandate to gather data on hate crime incidents, to be managed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Impetus to pass the bill was gained when video surfaced in early May showing 26-year-old Ahmaud Arbery being killed in late February by a shotgun blast after the African American man was pursued by two armed white men in a pickup truck while jogging near Brunswick, Ga. Padilla-Goodman acknowledged that “the horrific murder of Ahmaud Arbery” provided added momentum to the legislation.
The new statute would not apply to Travis McMichael and his father, Greg McMichael, should they be convicted on the charges of murder and aggravated assault that they face, because that crime would have taken place before the measure became law.
A Georgia hate crimes law passed in 2000 was thrown out by the state Supreme Court as “unconstitutionally vague” because it did not specify protected groups.
- HB 426
- Hate Crimes Bill
- Brian Kemp
- Hate Free Georgia Coalition
- Anti-Defamation League
- Allison Padilla-Goodman
- Harold Kirtz
- Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta
- Dov Wilker
- American Jewish Committee
- Ahmaud Arbery
- Travis McMichael
- Georgia Bureau of Investigation
- Atlanta Jewish Times
- General Assembly