“This legislation will further protect Gwinnett’s rich and diverse workforce from targeted criminal behavior,” said Gwinnett Chamber President and CEO Nick Masino, in the organization’s statement. “Our support highlights our commitment to ensure Gwinnett strives to be a place where all people feel safe and valued.”
Georgia is one of five states without a hate crimes law. House Bill 426, sponsored by state Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, was passed by the Georgia House in 2019 but must be passed by the state Senate by the end of the current session to make it to Gov. Brian Kemp's desk.
The bill would allow require a minimum of two years be added to a prison sentence if it’s proven that a felony was committed because of a victim’s “race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability.” Misdemeanors would have three to 12 months added to a sentence and aggravated misdemeanors would have six to 12 months added.
“Hate crimes are a nonpartisan issue,” said Dean Collins, vice chair of public policy, in the chamber’s statement. “We as a community recognize the need to stand together in the equal and fair treatment of all people. The Gwinnett Chamber board issuing this statement sends a strong signal to our constituents that we are engaged and fully supportive in moving forward a hate crimes bill. I’m hopeful that our lawmakers will make a hard push to get this critically important legislation passed.”
The legislation sat dormant for most of the 2020 session, but calls for its passage were renewed after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery outside Brunswick. Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, was chased and fatally shot by two white men while jogging in a residential neighborhood. A co-defendant in the case testified in a preliminary last week that Travis McMichael, now charged with murder, called Arbery a racial slur after killing Arbery.
The Georgia legislature reconvenes June 15 and has 11 working days left to pass the bill.