Georgia’s Kemp signs hate crimes law after outcry over death

June 26, 2020 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Friday signed legislation allowing additional penalties to be imposed for crimes motivated by a victim’s race, religion, sexual orientation or other factors, removing Georgia from the dwindling list of U.S. states without a hate crimes law.

State lawmakers acted with haste to pass the legislation, which had previously been stalled, following the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, as well as recent nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality. Arbery was a 25-year-old Black man pursued and fatally shot while running near Brunswick, Georgia, in February. Three white men, including a father and son, were charged with murder after video of the killing was made public.

Kemp said Friday before signing the bill that “we witnessed a horrific, hate-filled act of violence. We saw injustice with our own eyes. Georgians protested to demand action, and state lawmakers, many who are gathered here today, rose to the occasion.”

The Republican governor said the legislation won’t “fix every problem or right every wrong. But ... is a powerful step forward.”

The law, which becomes effective July 1, will allow additional penalties to be imposed for certain crimes when motivated by a victim’s race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender or disability. It also mandates the collection and reporting of data on hate crimes investigated by law enforcement.

Georgia’s Supreme Court overturned an earlier hate crimes statute in 2004, saying it was too broad.

Republican Rep. Chuck Efstration, who sponsored the bill, said Friday that decision left Georgia with a “gap in our law. The inability to call particularly heinous crimes appropriately was a loss to all Georgians,” Efstration said.

Before Kemp’s signing of House Bill 426, Georgia was one of only four U.S. states without a hate crimes law.

Lawmakers have tried for years to get hate crimes legislation passed, but efforts have languished, with some conservatives cool to the idea. The state House passed a version of Efstration’s bill over a year ago, but it stalled in a Senate committee. The effort only gained serious momentum in recent months following Arbery’s death and growing civil unrest across the country, which has brought waves of protesters to the state Capitol.

Bipartisan support for the bill was thrown in doubt when Republicans added police as a protected class in a Senate committee late last week. But that language was removed and put into another bill under a deal struck between the parties.

Many business and political leaders, as well as civil rights organizations, have been vocal in pushing for passage of a hate crimes law in Georgia.

“The time to act is now,” a group of organizations including the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Metro Atlanta Chamber, the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP urged in a statement last week before the bill was passed.