With the Georgia legislature set to resume June 15, one of the bills likely to come to the floor will be concerning hate crimes.
Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, said leadership in both houses have indicated interest in having the bill come to the floor.
“I think it’s more than reasonable that out of the few bills that we do take to the floor, other than budget of course, that that should be one of them,” Hawkins said.
The Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police adopted a resolution late last month in support of legislation that “enhances and mandates the criminal sentence” in cases involving hate crimes.
“The Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police support the creation of a civil process for victims to seek redress for any injury or damage to his or her property as a result of crimes of this nature,” according to the resolution.
House Bill 426 passed in the state House of Representatives in March 2019 by a vote of 96-64, but did not move further in the legislature.
The bill would increase punishments when it is proven in court “beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intentionally selected any victim or group of victims or any property as the object of the offense because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability, or physical disability of such victim or group of victims.”
If it’s a misdemeanor, it’s a minimum of three months imprisonment and a maximum $5,000 fine. A felony would require at least two years imprisonment.
During the March 7, 2019, vote, Reps. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gillsville, and Matt Dubnik, R-Gainesville, voted no along with Hawkins.
Dunahoo said he wants to see what will be presented during the session.before leaning one way or another.
“I will always be open-minded to read what versions of the bills come forward,” he said.
An attempt to reach Dubnik for comment Thursday, June 4, was unsuccessful.
“At the end of the day, what we want is legislation that creates much more deterrence to the things that we’re seeing happening in the U.S. right now,” Hawkins said.
Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, said he feels such a bill will require a great deal of patience and cooperation to create legislation that is both passable and enforceable.
“The hate crimes bill will be a delicate process, and it’s not as simple as either side would have you believe. There is no place for racism or injustice in our society or in our government,” he said.
Miller said there are potentially other substitute bills that have been drafted.
“There are many legislators on both sides of the aisle that are very passionate about the issue, and rightfully so. The scenes that we have witnessed in the last few weeks are troubling to say the least,” Miller said.
Miller said he feels the mandatory minimums take power from the judge regarding justice for the victim and rehabilitation for the offender.
“We want to make sure that we don’t create a circumstance that exacerbates problems that we already have in terms of incarceration of … non-violent juvenile offenders,” he said.