ATLANTA (AP) — 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 upcoming session of the Georgia General Assembly, which begins Monday. A previous state hate crime law passed nearly two decades ago was struck down by the state Supreme Court, which deemed it 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 Atlanta-area Republican, said Wednesday 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 applied 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 Monday. 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 a conservative base 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.