History — In 1968, following the murder of several civil rights workers, the U.S. Congress enacted the first hate crimes law. The law gave an enhanced sentence to those who targeted victims based on their color, ethnicity, sex, or national origin. Since that time 46 states have passed similar laws, including all of Georgia’s neighbors except for South Carolina.
In 2000 Georgia passed its own bipartisan hate crimes law, but this was struck down by the courts as overly broad in 2004. Since that time, numerous attempts to pass a revised hate crimes law in Georgia have stalled for one reason or another, until this year. In the 2020 legislative session Republicans in the House and Senate reached an agreement to pass a hate crimes law (HB 426) while also passing a separate bill to protect members of law enforcement (HB 838).
The Georgia Hate Crimes Law
HB 426 creates an enhanced sentence for the following crimes: criminal trespass (graffiti), theft, simple battery, and simple assault. If the victim of these crimes is chosen because of their race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability, then the judge must impose an additional sentence of between six and 12 months, and a fine of up to $5,0000. If the crime is a felony, the added punishment must be a minimum of two years and a fine of up to $5,000.
The standard of proof needed to prove “bias motivated intent” or more simply the “hate” portion of a hate crime is the same standard used in all criminal cases – beyond reasonable doubt.
This bill does not create thought crimes. Nor does this bill allow a person to sue, saying that speech that offended them is a hate crime. This bill is narrowly tailored, not to protect snowflakes, but to protect against theft, vandalism, assault, and murder that is motivated by overt bias or racism.
As a Christian, I believe that each person is made in the image of God and has equal intrinsic value. Georgia had gone far too long without addressing hate crimes, and it was time for this bill to become a law.
It is fitting that Governor Kemp signed the Hate Crimes Bill into law so close to the Fourth of July, as we seek to remember the words of America’s Founders. Namely, that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.
The Hate Crimes Law is an important step towards protecting those rights for all Georgians.
[Sen. Marty Harbin (R-District 16) has served in the Georgia Senate since 2015. He lives in Tyrone, Ga.]