Gov. Brian Kemp signaled he’s open to legislation that imposes additional penalties on hate crimes as advocates demand its passage amid outrage over the shooting death of an unarmed African-American jogger near Brunswick.
The governor said in a statement that “conversations about legislation are already underway, and we will work through the process when the General Assembly reconvenes” in June, though he stopped short of endorsing the proposal.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have intensified their calls for hate-crimes legislation as details of the Feb. 23 shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery emerged.
Authorities initially made no arrests in the slaying of the 25-year-old, who was running in a neighborhood just outside the coastal Georgia city when he was pursued by two white men.
But a graphic video of the encounter that surfaced this week prompted Kemp to direct the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to delve into the killing. Greg and Travis McMichael, the father and son accused of confronting Arbery, were charged with murder late Thursday.
The slaying reignited a long-simmering debate in Georgia over legislation that imposes stiffer prison sentences for those who commit crimes based on race, religion, sexual orientation or disability.
Georgia is one of four states in the nation without such a measure after a previous law was declared unconstitutionally vague in 2004, and leading Democrats and Republicans pressed for a new version when legislators resume the session in June after a pandemic-related hiatus.
The measure passed the Georgia House last year by a 96-64 vote with the support several influential suburban Republicans. But it stalled in the state Senate, held up by conservative critics who say they’re skeptical about the need for additional penalties for crimes that already carry hefty sentences.
“If this doesn’t show us that we ought to have a hate-crimes law, I don’t know what will,” said state Sen. Harold Jones, an Augusta Democrat and member of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus. “We need to step up in the Senate and make sure this gets passed.”
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