With legislative day 31 in the books, another day passed without movement on the Georgia General Assembly’s latest effort to pass a hate crime bill.
Last year, HB 426 passed the House 96-64 and made its way to the Senate where to date, has been stuck in committee. Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee cancelled a scheduled hearing, presumably because another legislative effort was looming.
In an early morning interview today with CNN, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan signaled the Senate’s version of a hate crimes bill would be introduced this afternoon. However, that bill is now expected to be revealed at a press conference tomorrow morning, after which it will go to committee.
With just 9 legislative days remaining, pressure has mounted for the Senate to take action. In the wake of the Senate’s delay, the House may continue stalling pieces of the Senate’s legislation, as witnessed today when House Rules Chairman Richard Smith (R-Columbus) adjourned a meeting abruptly. Smith said it “is becoming an embarrassment to the state,” critiquing the Senate’s inaction. Smith added that it was a legal and moral requirement to pass a budget, then follow up with a hate crimes bill. Yesterday House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) said “If we leave this session without passing a hate crimes bill, it will be a stain on this state we can never wash away.”
In 2000, Georgia passed a hate crimes bill titled as SB 390 an “Anti-domestic Terrorism Act.” When the bill was introduced by Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), protections for “actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, ethnicity, gender, disability or sexual orientation” were included. By the time it made it to Gov. Roy Barnes’ desk, those protections were removed and substituted with the ambiguous language “bias and prejudice,” thus creating an unconstitutionally vague law the Georgia Supreme Court invalidated in 2004.
At the time, Republicans argued the bill provided punishment for “thought crimes” and created a separate class of victim. Without the removal of certain protections, the bill would never have passed. ”What’s a hate crime?” asked Rep. Glenn Richardson (R-Dallas), one of the most ardent opponents. “Every crime is a hate crime. If it’s a crime, it shouldn’t matter what race or color or ancestry is. Put the criminal in jail.” Rep. Vernon Jones (D-Decatur) remarked “What until it happens to someone you love…what until it happens to you.”
The issue considered today and in 2000, was no different than in 1991, when Rep. Nan Orrock, now a Senator (D-Atlanta), proposed a similar measure, specifically protecting sexual preference. The bill was later gutted and defeated by a Democratic Party dominated House. Billy Randall (D-Macon), Chairman of the Special Judiciary Committee that handled the legislation said its defeat was due to House’s reluctance to tackle the issue of homosexuality.
The only reference to the hate crimes bill today in the Senate was by Sen. Gail Davenport (D-Jonesboro), who in a speech mentioned former Gov. Lester Maddox’s axe handles, the ill treatment of Georgia’s first Black Senator Leroy Johnson, and Georgia’s need to address racism, said “…now is the time for the Georgia legislature to do the right thing and pass the hate crimes bill,” not because it’s politically correct, but because it’s right and just.
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