Georgia House Judiciary Committee hearing March 8, 2018

LGB-inclusive hate crimes bill gets new life, passes out of House committee

Three LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes bills were proposed this year in the Georgia Legislature, but none of them passed from one chamber to the next by Crossover Day last week, making them effectively dead for the year. But there’s always the chance of language from one bill being attached to another that has crossed over, and that’s what happened Thursday afternoon for one of those hate crimes bills. Georgia is one of only five states in the nation without such a law on the books.

Language from House Bill 660 was attached to Senate Bill 373 — a bill that would create a new judgeship in Cobb County — which passed in the House Judiciary Civil Committee on Thursday and will now head to the full House for a vote. However, key parts from HB 660 — which was introduced by Rep. Meagan Hanson (R-Brookhaven) in early January but never received a hearing — were stripped before being attached to SB 373, including protections for those who’ve had a crime committed against them due to their gender identity. Also mandatory reporting of hate crimes and training for law enforcement on hate crimes were both removed as well. Factors that are in the bill include religion, race, national origin, gender and sexual orientation.

In introducing the substitute language, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) said, “I felt it’s time that Georgia really speaks to this issue about what is unacceptable in the way a person treats another during criminal conduct.”

Key members of the law enforcement community were in attendance to voice their support for the bill, including GBI Director Vernon Keenan, Pete Skandalakis of the Prosecuting Attorneys Council of Georgia and Dwayne Orrick of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police. Skandalakis and Keenan both mentioned incidents during their career where crime victims were targeted because they were gay.

While Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham praised Chairman Willard for introducing the hate crimes language, calling it “a long time coming,” he spoke out against leaving out protections for those targeted due to their gender identity.

“Transgender individuals here in the state of Georgia are some of the folks most prone for being who they are,” Graham told the committee. He referenced the 2014 assault of two transgender women on MARTA as an example of a crime where there was difficulty prosecuting under the federal hate crimes law, which was passed in 2010. “Members of the LGBT community felt that our experiences are treated less than others because of the lack of a hate crimes law that is inclusive,” he added.

Rep. David Dreyer (D-Atlanta) introduced an amendment to the bill adding gender identity, which led to a discussion about whether that was already covered under sexual orientation. Dreyer pointed out the difference between the two, and noted that the federal hate crimes statute includes gender identity. He also noted the murders of five transgender women last year, saying, “I really do think it’s one of the most vulnerable groups at this time.” The amendment to include gender identity did not pass.

Representatives for Concerned Women for America, Georgia Baptist Mission Board, Faith and Freedom Coalition and Citizens Impact were also in attendance to voice their opposition to the bill.