Democrat who endorsed Trump wants ‘party affiliation’ added to proposed hate-crimes law

A Democratic lawmaker who ended his re-election campaign shortly after endorsing Republican President Donald Trump's campaign wants to include crimes committed based on someone's politics to a proposed state hate-crimes law.

State Rep. Vernon Jones, a Lithonia Democrat, withdrew his candidacy for re-election a little more than a week after he endorsed Trump's presidential campaign, saying he had been "attacked and harassed by the Democrat Party for putting my country before my party."

A range of people including lawmakers, members of the business community and activists have increased their calls on the Georgia Senate to approve a bill that would enhance the penalty of those convicted of committing hate crimes.

The calls intensified after the death of Ahmaud Arbery, who was black and unarmed when he was followed and killed by three white men in the Brunswick area. One man is accused of calling Arbery an "(expletive) n-word" after shooting him. All three men have been charged with murder in Arbery's killing.

House Bill 426 was narrowly approved by the House last year and could be considered by the Georgia Senate when lawmakers return to complete the legislative session that was suspended in March to slow the spread of COVID-19.

HB 426, sponsored by state Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, would provide sentencing guidelines for anyone convicted of targeting a victim based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability.

Jones wants to add targeting someone based on their "actual or perceived political beliefs or political associations" to the list of protected classes. He introduced similar legislation, House Bill 1120, in March.

“Americans are being attacked nationwide because of their party affiliation and political ideology. I have personally been subjected to hate speech and threats because of my support for President Trump’s reelection,” Jones said in a statement. “While we are discussing hate-crimes legislation in Georgia, this could address another form of hate crime that people are experiencing.”

If the measure became law, a person convicted of a crime and proved to have been motivated by bias would face an additional punishment ranging from three months to a year and a fine of up to $5,000 for a misdemeanor offense to at least two years in prison for a felony offense. Georgia is one of at least four states that don’t have a hate-crimes law on the books.

Unless he finds a senator to introduce his idea, Jones, a member of the House, would only have the ability to amend HB 426 if the Senate amends it and sends it back to the House for its approval.

Supporters of HB 426 have asked the Senate to approve the legislation as is and send it to the governor’s desk. But Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan has said, while he supports passage of a hate-crimes bill, he believes the legislation needs to include a stronger ability for victims to sue in court.

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