High-time for a hate crimes bill
One of the greatest criticisms of religious exemptions legislation is that at the federal level, there are civil rights protections — but not at the state level in Georgia. Two bills were introduced this year, one each in the House and Senate, to address this issue. It’s unclear how successful those bills may be in 2018, given the combination of a shortened election-year session and a majority Republican General Assembly.
“Because Democrats do not have a majority, it’s unlikely the comprehensive civil rights legislation will move forward, but it’s important to continue to introduce it and talk about it. Passing a law takes time. Oftentimes it takes years,” Park said. “To be persistent and fight to advance legislative proposals like comprehensive civil rights is extremely important.”
December 22, 2017
Graham said he’s hopeful there will be a “good hearing” on the Senate side, and openly queer Rep. Park Cannon (D-Atlanta) said she’s thankful for “trusted leadership” in the House that will work on this front. Not everyone is as optimistic, however. “I’m concerned about unintended consequences of well-intended legislation,” Graham said. “I think that before we start moving down that road, we need to have a clearly vetted piece of legislation that isn’t going to make the environment even worse on some of these First Amendment issues.”
McKoon said when he spoke with Sen. Lester Jackson (D-Savannah), who introduced the Senate bill, he raised questions he felt were not able to be answered by those who backed the bill, particularly in regard to religious-based private schools. “We have found from our colleagues at the Anti-Defamation League that there is Republican interest in a hate crimes bill,” Graham said. “Hate crimes bills have been introduced every year since the state Supreme Court declared the earlier version unconstitutional, but there’s not been enough interest from a Republican in either chamber to advance a bill forward. 2018 may be a little different for that.”
Georgia is one of only five states without a hate crimes law on the books. Graham said that creates problems for individuals who feel they have been victims of bias-motivated crimes and seek to have those crimes investigated and prosecuted.
“One of the additional reasons we would love to see this, frankly, is to make sure there is uniform understanding across the state police departments on what bias-motivated crime looks like,” Graham said. “We only have a handful of police departments that are doing any reporting on hate crime statistics. We know that those statistics then actually fall short of what the real problem is. At the very least, we need to have some strong statistics on how to address violence against our communities.”
Shannon and Park both indicated their support of the bill, should it get introduced, but McKoon had some concerns with it.
“When you criminalize this offender more because of the motivation, I’m just not sure what kind of message that really sends,” he said. “If the problem Mr. Graham has identified is there are prosecutors who are not being sufficiently aggressive when someone is harassed, injured, killed … and it’s because of some sort of anti-gay motivation, then I think what we need to do is we need to have a pretty robust conversation about prosecuting attorneys around the state about ‘why are y’all treating these cases differently?’”