Hate crimes bill expected to stall in Georgia Senate

3/4/19 - Atlanta - Senate Judiciary Chairman Jesse Stone counts votes on a proposed amendment to SB 150. The amendment failed but the bill passed. A bill that would prohibit convicted domestic abusers from possessing firearms cleared a Senate panel Monday. Senate Bill 150 would make it illegal for anyone who has been convicted of misdemeanor family violence or is under a Òfamily violence protective orderÓ from owning a gun. Felons already are banned from owning the weapons. The legislature was in session for the 26th day of the 2019 General Assembly. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

A Senate committee chairman said he believes legislation creating stiffer penalties for people who commit crimes against people based on hate needs “more time” before he will consider it.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, said he believes victims should have an equal chance at justice and isn't sure that increased penalties for crimes against certain people is the best way to go.

The Georgia House earlier this month voted 96-64 to approve a bill 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.

If House Bill 426 becomes law, a person convicted of a crime and proved 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.

Bills that don’t become law this year will have another chance in 2020 since this is the first of a two-year legislative session. The session is scheduled to adjourn April 2.

State Rep. Chuck Efstration, the bill's sponsor, said he was disappointed it appeared the measure wasn't going to pass this year. While he's spoken with some state senators about the measure, the Dacula Republican said he's not sure of specific concerns.

“I’m aware of bipartisan support for the legislation,” Efstration said. “Until the bill is heard in open committee, it’s hard to assess what any issues could be.”

Georgia is one of five states in the country without a hate crimes statute on the books. A 2000 hate crimes law was struck down by the Georgia Supreme Court in 2004 for being “unconstitutionally vague.”

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