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Hall state House members against hate crime bill
Measure before Senate would boost penalties
Georgia's state Capitol in Atlanta. - photo by Associated Press

A bill passed by the Georgia House of Representatives before Crossover Day would boost the punishments for convicted people who “intentionally selected” a victim because of some sort of bias or prejudice.

House Bill 426 passed by a vote of 96-64 March 7.

All of the Gainesville representatives — Emory Dunahoo, Lee Hawkins and Matt Dubnik — voted against the bill.

“It’s a terrible, terrible, terrible bill. It should have never been brought up. It gives government the right to know what (you’re) thinking and tell you what you were thinking if you committed a crime,” Dunahoo said.

According to the bill, an increased punishment would happen if it is determined beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant picked their victim based on “actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability.”

For misdemeanors, that would be imprisonment for at least three months but no more than a year and a maximum $5,000 fine.

“High and aggravated” misdemeanors would lead to at least six months imprisonment but no more than a year as well as the maximum $5,000 fine.

For example, simple battery is a misdemeanor, but simple battery against a person older than 65 or against a law enforcement officer is “high and aggravated.”

Felonies would have a minimum two-year prison sentence.

“While all personal crime is serious, felony or misdemeanor, committing a crime solely because the victim is from one of the categories defined in HB 426 is especially heinous, and enhanced punishment is appropriate,” Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh wrote in a statement.

The Rev. Rose Johnson, executive director of Gainesville’s civil-rights focused Newtown Florist Club, served as the national program director for the Center for Democratic Renewal in the 1990s.

During that time, the center pushed for hate crimes legislation.

“Now nearly 30 years later the legislation has the greatest potential for passing into law. For all of the many residents of Georgia who have been victims of crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender and national origin the passage of this legislation may serve as a small victory,” Johnson wrote in a statement.

According to the FBI, 27 hate crime incidents were reported in Georgia in 2017. That is fewer than the 39 incidents reported in Georgia in 2016 and 44 incidents in 2015.

Rep. Timothy Barr, R-Lawrenceville, said the state already has tough laws regarding crime and that creating a special class “confuses the process.”

Dunahoo said he had heard from some senators intending to change the bill.

“I don’t care if you’re black, white. I don’t care if you’re Asian or Hispanic. God sees us all the same, and I don’t want some kind of government official or judge telling me what was in my heart or in my mind if I committed something like that,” Dunahoo said.

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