The new Georgia hate crimes law “does not fix every problem or right every wrong,” but is a step forward for “a state too great to hate,” Gov. Brian Kemp said June 26 as he signed the bill during a ceremony at the state capitol.
The bill was overwhelmingly approved June 23, 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.
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.
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.
When the Georgia measure takes effect July 1, three states – Arkansas, South Carolina and Wyoming – will remain without some sort of hate crimes statute. (Indiana has a law that the ADL and others consider too weak to be effective.)
On its way to passage, the Georgia bill survived the addition and then the removal of elements that might have doomed its chances. The original version of HB 426 had narrowly cleared the House in March 2019 and languished in the Senate until near the end of the General Assembly’s special session. 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.
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. The new statute will 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.