With just a few days left in the Georgia General Assembly, state Senate Republicans had mostly ‘ a take it or leave it’ position and is, in essence, daring Georgia voters to vote them out in November.
Georgia Republicans continue to be resistant in passing a serious Hate Crime Law, as the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday, June 19th approved a hate crimes bill passed by the state House last year but added police as a protected class alongside race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender or disability.
In Georgia, hate crimes are on the rise, but the Peach State is one of four states nationwide that doesn’t have a hate crimes law right now. Democrats had been pushing for stronger penalties and to include a group of protected minorities which include African-Americans. A case in point is the Ahmaud Arbery case in Brunswick. The FBI reported that attacks motivated by bias or prejudice reached a two decade high in 2018 … with a significant rise in violence against people of color. Right now, state and local police forces are not required to report hate crimes to the FBI, and many cities and some entire states don’t collect or report data.
Twenty years ago, a watered-down Hate Crimes Law was passed in 2000 and struck down by the Georgia Supreme Court in 2004 for being “unconstitutionally vague”. Critics of the law wanted to pass a more specific bill, identifying race, religion, gender, national origin, or sexual orientation as the motivation for the crime, but were stopped in the Georgia House over the inclusion of sexual orientation. The bill passed when lawmakers removed all protected categories.
As we fast forward to 2020, high profile cases such as the Arbery case and even the George Floyd case have brought more attention to racial injustice.
“The time to act is now,” a group of organizations including the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Metro Atlanta Chamber, Anti-Defamation League, and the NAACP said in a statement.
Rep. Chuck Efstration, a Republican from Dacula that sponsored the House version, would not commit to voting against the bill if it came back to the House with first responder protections, but said “bad faith on behalf of the Senate to fail to engage in meaningful dialogue is notable,” accusing the chamber’s Republican leadership of trying to sabotage the bill.
“It’s incredibly important that this legislation be passed this year, and poison-pill amendments which are brought only for the purpose of causing division and causing Democrat opposition in order to ensure the failure of the legislation is unacceptable,” Efstration said.
Rep. Calvin Smyre, a Democrat from Columbus and the longest-serving member of the House, said “This is certainly something that we cannot live with and that we cannot support.”
Sen. Harold Jones II, an Augusta Democrat who is one of three Democrats on the Senate Committee, said it was especially symbolic that Republicans took the action on Juneteenth.
“To do this, especially on Juneteenth, is just a spit in the face of what this bill is about and I think it’s cynical,” Jones said. “I think it’s done for political purposes. It cheapens it.”
Jones said he did not believe the language could be removed in negotiations between the House and Senate. “It’s not coming out in conference,” he said.
Jones, like several other opponents of the change, noted that Georgia lawmakers several years ago increased punishments for assaults against police officers in another law.
“We already have enough protection now for police officers,” Jones said.