Powerful biz groups want ‘swift’ passage of Georgia hate-crimes law

January 16, 2020 - Atlanta - Gov. Brian Kemp shook hands with Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan (left) and House Speaker David Ralston after he delivered his second State of the State address as the Georgia 2020 General Assembly continued for it's fourth legislative day. The governor and the house honored former U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson during the session.  Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com
January 16, 2020 - Atlanta - Gov. Brian Kemp shook hands with Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan (left) and House Speaker David Ralston after he delivered his second State of the State address as the Georgia 2020 General Assembly continued for it's fourth legislative day. The governor and the house honored former U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson during the session. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

Credit: bandres@ajc.com

Credit: bandres@ajc.com

Two of Georgia's most prominent business groups united Wednesday to press state lawmakers to adopt a hate-crimes law when the legislative session resumes next month.

The heads of the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce issued a rare joint statement calling for the "swift passage of hate crimes legislation that aligns our state's law with our values" when legislators return after a months-long pandemic delay.

“The passage of hate crimes legislation in 2019 by a bipartisan vote of the Georgia House of Representatives was an important step forward for our state,” read the statement by Hala Moddelmog of the Metro Atlanta Chamber and Chris Clark of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

“Recent support from statewide leaders further demonstrates that momentum is growing for Georgia to join the 45 other states that already have these laws on the books.”

The groups join a bipartisan collection of supporters of the measure that includes law enforcement officials, Democratic leaders and several of the state's most powerful Republicans who say the slaying of Ahmaud Arbery in coastal Georgia has reignited their calls for the legislation.

House Speaker David Ralston has said he would "challenge and implore" Senate lawmakers to pass the hate crimes bill already adopted by his chamber, House Bill 426, "with no delay and no amendments" when the session resumes in June.

More: In Arbery killing and in general, hate-crimes cases difficult to prove

More: Ahmaud Arbery slaying shifts political debate in Georgia

Some Democrats who have long pressed for the measure have recently called for the bill to be renamed in memory of Arbery, a 25-year-old black man who was shot and killed in February on the outskirts of Brunswick. Three white men have been charged with his murder.

Georgia is one of four or five states in the nation without such a measure – depending on the metric – after a previous law was declared unconstitutionally vague in 2004.

The measure passed the Georgia House last year by a 96-64 vote with the support of several influential suburban Republicans. But it stalled in the state Senate, held up by critics who say they're skeptical about whether additional penalties will deter crimes.

While Gov. Brian Kemp has indicated he's receptive to the legislation, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who presides over the state Senate, has not yet taken a stance. Some other powerful Senate leaders have raised objections, including Jesse Stone, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Stone, who blocked a vote on the measure last year, said many members are opposed because it could limit the discretion of trial judges to impose sentences and also because of a “philosophical concern” about requiring different punishments for similar crimes.

“The bill doesn’t do enough in some areas, and it goes too far in others,” Stone said. “We’ve got our plate full with bills that we do need to move on, so if a consensus comes together, it’s possible we can move on this. But if it doesn’t, it could lag behind.”

Here's the full statement from Clark and Moddelmog:

"The passage of hate crimes legislation in 2019 by a bipartisan vote of the Georgia House of Representatives was an important step forward for our state. Recent support from statewide leaders further demonstrates that momentum is growing for Georgia to join the 45 other states that already have these laws on the books. When the Georgia General Assembly reconvenes in June, the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Georgia Chamber urge swift passage of hate crimes legislation that aligns our state's laws with our values." 

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