Han­son hate crimes bill is early pri­or­ity for Gen­eral Assem­bly

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - By Kate Brumback

AT­LANTA — A Ge­or­gia state law­maker has pro­posed hate crime leg­is­la­tion, say­ing it’s time for the state to join most oth­ers in im­pos­ing harsher penal­ties on peo­ple con­victed of crimes mo­ti­vated by hate.

Rep. Mea­gan Han­son pre-filed the leg­is­la­tion ahead of the Ge­or­gia Gen­eral Assem­bly ses­sion which be­gan Mon­day. A pre­vi­ous state hate crime law passed nearly two decades ago was struck down by the state Supreme Court as too broad.

“With this leg­is­la­tion, Ge­or­gia would join the vast ma­jor­ity of other states in this coun­try pros­e­cut­ing crimes mo­ti­vated by hate with the in­tent to threaten groups of our ci­ti­zens with the grav­ity and at­ten­tion that they de­serve,” Hansen, an At­lantaarea Repub­li­can, said at a news con­fer­ence an­nounc­ing the leg­is­la­tion.

The bi­par­ti­san bill pre-filed Thurs­day pro­vides for en­hanced penal­ties when it is deter­mined that some­one has in­ten­tion­ally tar­geted a crime vic­tim be­cause of be­liefs about the vic­tim’s ac­tual or per­ceived race, color, re­li­gion, na­tional ori­gin, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, gen­der, gen­der iden­tity, men­tal dis­abil­ity or phys­i­cal dis­abil­ity.

At­tacks mo­ti­vated by hate for a par­tic­u­lar group are par­tic­u­larly harm­ful, Han­son said, be­cause “they ex­ist not only to harm the in­di­vid­ual tar­get of that crime but to also cre­ate fear and op­press the en­tire com­mu­nity to which that in­di­vid­ual be­longs.”

A pre­vi­ous Ge­or­gia hate crime law passed in 2000 called for up to five extra years in prison for crimes in which the vic­tim was cho­sen be­cause of “bias or prej­u­dice” but did not spec­ify which groups qual­i­fied for pro­tec­tion. It was chal­lenged the first time it was used, and the Ge­or­gia Supreme Court unan­i­mously struck it down in 2004, say­ing the law was “un­con­sti­tu­tion­ally vague” and so broad it could be ap- plied to ev­ery pos­si­ble prej­u­dice.

The fact that Ge­or­gia is one of just five states that does not crim­i­nal­ize bias-mo­ti­vated vi­o­lence or in­tim­i­da­tion ar­gues in fa­vor of its pas­sage, said Charles Bul­lock, a Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor.

The bill is just one of many that law­mak­ers plan to take up as the leg­isla­tive ses­sion opens. Given that it’s an elec­tion year, Bul­lock spec­u­lated that leg­is­la­tors won’t pass any new taxes, but he said some Repub­li­cans look­ing to rally con­ser­va­tives could re­vive ef­forts to pass a reli­gious free­dom bill.

House Speaker David Ral­ston has said a bill to mod­ern­ize the state’s nearly 30-year-old law on adop­tions that stalled in the Se­nate last year will be a pri­or­ity, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal me­dia.

The penalty en­hance­ments pro­vided for in the hate crime bill in­clude a min­i­mum of two years in prison for a felony of­fense and three months to a year in prison an ad­di­tional fine of up to $5,000 for a mis­de­meanor con­vic­tion. When an­nounc­ing a sen­tence, judges are in­structed to spec­ify the in­crease in the sen­tence that re­sults from the hate crime law, and any prison time is not to be sus­pended, stayed, pro­bated, de­ferred or with­held by the court, the bill says.

The bill also in­structs the Ge­or­gia Peace Of­fi­cer Stan­dards and Train­ing Coun­cil and the Ge­or­gia Pub­lic Safety Train­ing Cen­ter to in­cor­po­rate train­ing ma­te­ri­als on iden­ti­fy­ing, re­spond­ing to and re­port­ing ac­tiv­ity that might in­volve a hate crime.

“This bill does not only pro­vide Ge­or­gia with the hate crime leg­is­la­tion nec­es­sary to ap­pro­pri­ately and pro­por­tion­ately pun­ish crimes com­mit­ted, but also pro­vides our law en­force­ment of­fi­cers with the train­ing and guid­ance needed to com­bat and in­ves­ti­gate crimes of hate,” Han­son said.

David Goldman / AP

Rep. Me­gan Han­son (R-Brookhaven) speaks at a press con­fer­ence about the new hate crimes bill she is spon­sor­ing in the cur­rent leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

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