Georgia Senate passes bipartisan hate crimes bill

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia’s state Senate has passed hate crimes legislation deemed essential by state leaders after lawmakers struck a deal to remove language protecting police.

The bill, passed Tuesday by a vote of 47-6, now goes back to the state House for debate of Senate changes, which include data collection and reporting requirements and the addition of sex as a protected factor.

“Victims need protection against any attack motivated by hatred due to bias or prejudice,” said Sen. Donzella James, a Democrat from Atlanta, who spoke about her own experiences facing discrimination as a Black woman. “House Bill 426 is a measured approach at doing all of the things that we need to do to treat this injustice. It’s time that Georgia rise up and show that we will not stand for crimes done out of hate.”

A push for passage of the bill has gained momentum after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, as well as nationwide protests of racial injustice and police brutality. Arbery, a Black man, was pursued and fatally shot near Brunswick, Georgia, in February. Three white men, including a father and son, are charged in his death.

The version of the bill passed by the Senate would impose additional penalties for crimes motivated by a victim’s race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender or disability.

Bipartisan support for the measure was thrown in doubt after Republicans added “status of being or having been a first responder” as a protected class in a Senate committee last week. The ACLU, NAACP and House and Senate Democratic caucuses are among groups that came out against the bill with the first responder provision added. But the language protecting police and other emergency responders was removed Monday after lawmakers said they struck a deal between parties.

Enhanced protections for police and other first responders were instead moved to another bill, House Bill 838.