Lesbian ready to fight for Ga. hate crimes law

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A lesbian backbencher isn’t quietly preparing for her first full term in the Georgia House. Instead, state Rep. Keisha Waites wants lawmakers to pass a gay-specific hate crimes law and require schools to report bullying, so she’s pre-filed three bills ahead of the January start to the legislative season.

Waites won a special election in February to briefly take the District 60 seat in the House. She easily won election to a full term in July. Now, Waites is diving head first into legislative nitty-gritty.

On Nov. 28, she pre-filed House Bill 12, a measure that would increase misdemeanor penalties by 50 percent and add up to five years to felony sentences in crimes that target people based on race, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or national origin. (On Dec. 11, Waites filed an identical measure, House Bill 24.)

The legislative summary of the bills:

A BILL to be entitled an Act to amend Article 1 of Chapter 10 of Title 17 of the O.C.G.A., relating to procedure for sentencing and imposition of punishment, so as to repeal certain provisions regarding sentencing of defendants guilty of crimes involving bias or prejudice, circumstances, and parole; to provide for sentencing of certain defendants guilty of crimes which target a victim due to the victim’s race, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or national origin, circumstances, and parole; to provide for enhanced sentences in any case in which the trier of fact determines beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intentionally selected any victim or any property of the victim as the object of the offense because of the victim’s race, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or national origin; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.

Georgia is one of five states without a hate crimes law since the state Supreme Court struck it down in 2004, calling it over-broad and “unconstitutionally vague.” Since, legislative attempts to pass another measure have failed. In March, Waites signed on as a co-sponsor a hate crimes proposal from Rep. Rashad Taylor. But that legislation went nowhere and Taylor, who is gay, lost his re-election bid. Annual efforts by state Sen. Vincent Fort to revive the state’s hate crimes law have also failed.

Waites also pre-filed House Bill 15, which would require elementary and secondary schools to annually report bullying incidents and allow school councils to help craft anti-bullying strategies. In 2010, lawmakers passed a measure toughening the state’s anti-bullying law and mandating school systems to develop anti-bullying policies.

That measure, carried by gay-friendly Republican state Rep. Mike Jacobs and signed into law by a GOP governor, did not include specific protected categories in its definition of bullying. Waites’ bill does not change that definition, but mandates that schools issue an annual report detailing any incidents of bullying.

State Rep. Wendell Willard, a Sandy Springs Republican, pre-filed House Bill 3, a measure that shifts responsibility of disclosing confidential information about people with AIDS to the new state Public Health Department. The measure appears to shift record-keeping functions from the former agency that oversaw reporting to the new one. But Willard is the powerful chair of the House Judiciary Committee who in February single-handedly derailed a proposal to protect gay state employees from workplace discrimination. The means he’s got the legislative muscle to shape the bill to accomplish other goals.

In February, Willard’s move came during a contentious legislative hearing in which Willard banned photos and video over media coverage of an earlier hearing that publicized the junk science and anti-gay statements made by opponents of the workplace discrimination bill. Willard, ironically, was a co-sponsor of the legislation, known as House Bill 630.


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