The Georgia Senate passed a new hate crime bill today (June 23) by a vote of 47-6. The House passed the bill 127-38.
According to CBS46, as it stands now, House Bill 426 (or #HB426 ) will “impose additional penalties for crimes motivated by the victim’s race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender or disability.”
On Friday, Republican senators implemented changes that allowed for protections for police and first responders from hate crimes, but suddenly removed that part of the bill after numerous objections from Senate Democrats and ACLU, the NAACP and other civil rights groups.
Since the death of Ahmaud Arbery in February 2020, the Black man whose death in Brunswick, Georgia came after two white men cornered him with a pickup truck and shot him after an abrupt argument, pressure has been put upon Georgia state legislators to create a law around hate crimes. The protests over police violence that followed only pushed the cause even further.
Republican House Speaker David Ralston acknowledged the Arbery's death before the bill was passed saying,"Today we have said we will not be defined by a senseless act ... the murder of Ahmaud Arbery."
Republican State Senator Bill Heath spoke against the bill tweeting that he was worried pastors who preach based on scripture against gay marriage could be held liable under this new criteria for hate crimes.
"This is a very complicated issue but we're soon to be complicating it even more," said Heath before today’s hearing.
This has been a long time coming as Georgia lawmakers have tried to get a hate crimes bill passed for years.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia is one of five states in the country that did not have a law that has harsher penalties for people who commit crimes based on race, sexual orientation, religion or disability. The Georgia Supreme Court denied a hate crime statute in 2004 for being too vague in its interpretation. Lawmakers attempted to craft a new statute, and it passed the state house, but was stalled in its senate. But this time they say Arbery’s killing shows exactly why there should be a law on the books that specifies this type of crime.