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SC in no rush to join 48 other states with hate crimes law

February 1, 2022 GMT
South Carolina Rep. Beth Bernstein, D-Columbia, joins members of the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus is asking the state Senate to take up a hate crimes law passed last year by the House at a news conference on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina is one of only two states without a hate crimes law. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
South Carolina Rep. Beth Bernstein, D-Columbia, joins members of the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus is asking the state Senate to take up a hate crimes law passed last year by the House at a news conference on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina is one of only two states without a hate crimes law. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
South Carolina Rep. Beth Bernstein, D-Columbia, joins members of the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus is asking the state Senate to take up a hate crimes law passed last year by the House at a news conference on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina is one of only two states without a hate crimes law. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
South Carolina Rep. Beth Bernstein, D-Columbia, joins members of the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus is asking the state Senate to take up a hate crimes law passed last year by the House at a news conference on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina is one of only two states without a hate crimes law. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
South Carolina Rep. Beth Bernstein, D-Columbia, joins members of the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus is asking the state Senate to take up a hate crimes law passed last year by the House at a news conference on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina is one of only two states without a hate crimes law. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Republicans in the South Carolina Senate don’t appear to be in any rush to make their state the 49th in the county to pass a hate crimes law.

Democrats in the House gathered Tuesday to talk to reporters and put pressure on senators to act on a bill that adds penalties to violent crimes based on someone’s motives.

The House passed the bill in 2021, although it removed hate crime penalties for property crimes such as painting a swastika on a synagogue.

The bill started this legislative session last month on the Senate floor and hasn’t moved, leaving South Carolina and Wyoming as the only U.S. states without a hate crimes law. If it doesn’t pass before the session ends in May, the proposal would have to start all over again in 2023.

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“We have some great senators over there. But now we need them to stand up and show a little backbone,” said Rep. Wendell Gilliard, a Charleston Democrat.

The “ Clementa C. Pinckney Hate Crimes Act ” allows prosecutors to ask the same jury that convicted someone for extra punishment for a violent crime based on the race, color, religion, sex, gender, national origin, sexual orientation or physical or mental disability of the victim.

The bill is named for Pinckney, a state senator killed along with eight others in a 2015 racist attack on a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church, a historic Charleston church founded in 1817 by slaves. Pinckney was the church pastor.

Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey said Tuesday that he agrees with a number of his fellow Republicans that current laws and how they are enforced are properly punishing people for what are considered hate crimes. The shooter at the Charleston church is on federal death row as U.S. prosecutors tried him under the federal hate crime statute.

“The way this bill is drafted, it doesn’t do anything to protect anybody. It doesn’t make anybody’s life better,” said Massey, a Republican from Edgefield.

Supporters of the bill have accepted some compromises.

It covers only violent crimes, despite worries that having the extra penalties might be more important and have a larger symbolic affect for crimes like one last month in Sumter, where a 17-year-old was arrested and charged with aggravated breach of the peace or altering a changeable traffic message sign to say “honk if you hate” ending with a racist slur against Black people.

Supporters said sending a message through the law that people won’t stand for that kind of hate is as important as allowing for more time in prison.

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The arguments from senators against the bill were previewed in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last year. Several of them said crimes are crimes, no matter what their motivation, including Sen. Richard Cash, who wondered if the bill could be expanded to include a sports fan who beats up another fan over a bitter team rivalry or a student who hates their teacher.

The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce made a public push last year to get the bill through the House, saying that companies might pause when they find out South Carolina is isolated from most of the rest of the country on the issue. Passing the hate crimes law is one of the group’s key goals for this session, but they haven’t held any news conferences or public push yet.

Massey said he expects pressure from all sorts of groups to take up the bill and time will tell if it is effective.

“The Chamber of Commerce certainly had some influence on the House side,” Massey said. Ï don’t know that they are very influential over here.”

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.