Georgia is one of the five states in the country with no hate crime laws. House Bill 426 could amend this.
As of March 7, HB 426 passed the House and moved into the Senate. The bill has support from multiple organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League and its #HateFreeGA movement.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines a hate crime as “a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias.” Biases refer to ideas about race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity, according to the FBI.
On the state level, not all of these biases are accounted for. According to the ADL, only 13 states have hate crime laws that accommodate all of these biases.
HB 426, if passed, would impose hate crime penalties for all of the biases outlined by the FBI in the state of Georgia, except “gender identity.”
On the misdemeanor level, conviction of a hate crime could bring a 3-12 month sentence and a fine of up to $5,000. Aggravated misdemeanors could carry a sentence of 6-12 months with the same fine, and felonies would have a minimum two-year sentence.
“Laws against hate crimes … serve as a powerful public statement against [hate] crimes and offer protection to some of our most vulnerable state residents, including LGBTQ+ populations.”
— Hillary Brown, Athens For Everyone member
Georgia previously had a hate crimes law enacted in 2000, but it was struck down by the Georgia Supreme Court four years later for being “unconstitutionally vague.” A similar bill was proposed in the 2017-2018 session but failed to pass either the House or Senate before crossover day.
Political organization Athens For Everyone has expressed its support for the bill. Hillary Brown is a member of the organization’s Legislative Action Network and spoke on its behalf.
“Georgia is one of only five states that has no law against hate crimes. As an organization that advocates against discrimination, we feel that it's important to support efforts to reduce it,” Brown said. “Laws against hate crimes … serve as a powerful public statement against [hate] crimes and offer protection to some of our most vulnerable state residents, including LGBTQ+ populations.”
Brown cited several previous attacks in the Athens-Clarke area, including the assault of a gay man in 2017 and the murder of a transgender woman in 2017.
One A4E critique of the bill was that while it does mention “gender” as a protected category, it does not explicitly refer to “gender identity.” Brown said she thought this could still be interpreted more expansively if the need arose, however.
Brown said A4E is confident the bill will pass, but should it become bogged down, the group would encourage its members to contact their senators.