Georgia lawmaker kills LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes bill

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The leader of a Senate committee assured that Georgia will wait at least another year before leaving the ranks of the five states in the nation without a hate crimes law.

Sen. Jesse Stone, a Republican from Waynesboro, said House Bill 426 needs “more time” before he will consider it, according to the AJC. Stone (top photo) is chair of the Senate Judiciary committee, which the bill was assigned to after the House passed it on March 7.

Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, said they will try again when the bill carries over into the 2020 legislative session.

“I’m disappointed that we were not able to have a hearing on this bill, but do look forward to working with our partners in the Hate Free Georgia Coalition in the coming months to reach out to the individual members of the Senate Judiciary committee to educate them on this bill,” he told Project Q Atlanta.

Rep. Chuck Efstration, a Republican from Dacula, introduced HB 426 in February. A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers signed on to co-sponsor the bill. 

House Bill 426 would impose heightened penalties for crimes committed “because of the individual’s belief or perception” regarding the victim’s sexual orientation, gender, race, color, religion, national origin, mental disability or physical disability. It does not include gender identity as a protected class, but supporters of the bill said the inclusion of “belief or perception” would allow it to cover transgender people.

If HB 426 becomes law, someone convicted of a crime motivated by bias would face between three months and a year in prison plus fines up to $5,000 for a misdemeanor, and at least two years in prison for a felony. The legislation enhances the penalties for misdemeanors, aggravated misdemeanors and felonies, and mandates that felony sentences not be suspended or probated.

Evangelical opponents tried to derail the bill from passing in the House by claiming that it would lead to pastors being arrested for preaching against homosexuality from the pulpit. Once it passed the House, it marked the first time that an LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes bill had passed in either chamber of the Georgia legislature.

Georgia passed a hate crimes law that did not include sexual orientation or gender identity in 2000, but the Georgia Supreme Court struck it down in 2004 for being “unconstitutionally vague.”

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