High-time for a hate crimes bill

GA Voice - - Front Page -

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?’”

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