Taylor said he hoped to get Republican co-sponsors for the bill that includes sexual orientation and gender identity before introducing it, but because it was an election year several supportive Republicans wanted to wait until January to sign on. Georgia is one of five states that does not have its own hate crimes law.

Taylor’s bill would allow judges to decide to apply stiffer penalties to those found guilty of committing a hate crime against people who are gay or perceived to be gay as well as transgender. The bill also includes race, gender, national origin and religion.

State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) has repeatedly introduced a hate crimes bill since the state’s hate crimes law was deemed “unconstitutionally vague” in 2004 by the Georia Supreme Court.

Current co-sponsors of Taylor’s bill are Reps. Karla Drenner, Simone Bell and Keisha Waites, who are all openly gay; plus Tyrone Brooks and Ralph Long. All are Democrats.

“I wanted to get the conversation started of what to expect in January [when the General Assembly reconvenes],” Taylor said. “This bill is very similar to Sen. Fort’s except mine gives judicial discretion.

“In January, I’ll be able to reintroduce the bill and I’m also working on a separate bill that will be about training and data collecting. Hopefully in January I’ll have some strong co-sponsors,” Taylor said.

Two hearings for employment bill

A bill that would prohibit state employees from being fired because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender never got out of a Judiciary Committee subcommittee this year in the Georgia legislature, but plans are to continue garnering support to have it passed in a future session.

When the State Fair Employment Practices Act, HB 630, was first introduced at the end of the 2011 session by state Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Atlanta), activists expected the bill to take several years to win approval, said Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham.

The bill did get a hearing before one Judiciary Committee subcommittee with supporters testifying on its behalf; Drenner also testified at a second subcommittee hearing in favor of the bill.

At the first hearing, Tanya Ditty, state director of the Concerned Women of America, testified against the bill, comparing gay people to pedophiles and necrophiliacs.

During the second hearing, Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), chair of the Judiciary Committee and a co-sponsor of HB 630, banned cameras and video because he said videos of Ditty testifying against HB 630 posted to the internet were an “abuse.”

Despite the discord at both hearings, Graham said they represented a historic first in Georgia politics.

“No bill with sexual orientation and gender identity in it has gotten this far before,” Graham said. “There was no vote to strip language from it and a number of Republicans supported the measure.”

Graham noted that Republicans who supported HB 630 are now being targeted in the upcoming election season by the Peach Tea Party.

While HB 630 didn’t get a full hearing, the conversation on the bill was started under the Gold Dome, Graham said. And for LGBT residents, the session was actually quite kind, he said.

“This certainly was not a great session for us, but many have been much worse,” Graham said.


Top photo: State Rep. Rashad Taylor (D-Atlanta), who came out last year, introduced a hate crime bill on the last day of this year’s state legislative session.
(by Dyana Bagby)

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