The effort to pass hate-crimes legislation in Georgia advanced Thursday, March 8, when much of the text from a failed bill was appended to a measure to expand the Cobb County Superior Court.
Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), who is in the final weeks of his legislative career, added key portions of House Bill 660 to Senate Bill 373 when that legislation came before the House Judiciary Committee, which he chairs.
The amended bill would increase punishments for crimes motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived race, religion, national origin, disability, gender, homeless status or sexual orientation, but does not cover gender identity, as H.B. 660 did, according to the Georgia Voice. Also left out were provisions mandating law enforcement training and reporting on hate crimes.
Rep. Meagan Hanson (R-Brookhaven), who sponsored H.B. 660, tried to get gender identity added to the amended S.B. 373 but failed, Project Q Atlanta reported. It said Willard views the measure as covering gender without being explicit about it.
Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham told Project Q that the committee’s conversation about hate crimes and LGB issues and its easy approval of the measure were “incredibly important.”
Thursday’s committee meeting “was one of the best conversations we have had to date that the full LGBT community is protected,” Graham told Project Q.
Law enforcement leaders including Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan endorsed H.B. 660 even before it was formally introduced, and the Georgia Voice reported that they attended the Judiciary Committee meeting Thursday to show support.
H.B. 660 failed to make it to the House floor, let alone win House passage, before Crossover Day on Feb. 28, the deadline for legislation to win approval by at least one chamber of the Georgia General Assembly.
But Shelley Rose, the deputy Southeast regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, had expressed cautious optimism that legislators would add hate-crimes language to a bill that had crossed over in time, as happened Thursday.
The next step is a hearing before the House Rules Committee, which must agree to send the amended bill to the full House for a vote. That committee is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Friday, March 9, with live streaming available.
Georgia is one of five states without any hate-crimes law in place. The state enacted such a law in 2000, but the state Supreme Court threw it out four years later for being unconstitutionally vague. Passage of such a law is an ADL priority endorsed by an interfaith coalition featuring many Jewish organizations.