Georgia’s state Capitol.

Gwinnett Republican introduces hate crimes legislation

A Gwinnett Republican is leading this year’s effort to bring Georgia in line with 45 other states that have hate crimes laws on the books. 

State Rep. Chuck Efstration of Dacula filed a bill with bipartisan support Thursday that would give sentencing guidelines for anyone convicted of targeting a victim based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability. 

“There are certain crimes that are so severe that they require appropriate criminal punishment to (match) the heinousness of the offense,” said Efstration, a former assistant district attorney.

If House Bill 426 becomes law, a person convicted of a crime and proven to have been motivated by bias would face 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 five states that does not have a hate crimes law on the books. A 2000 hate crimes law was struck down by the Georgia Supreme Court in 2004 for being “unconstitutionally vague.”

Similar legislation was introduced last year, but gained no traction.

State Rep. Calvin Smyre, a Columbus Democrat who is a cosponsor on the legislation, said it was time “Georgia stand up to this issue.”

“Bias-motivated crimes are unacceptable and must be handled in a responsible fashion,” Smyre said.

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