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Georgia’s Kemp signs hate crimes law after outcry over death

(Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
(Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

ATLANTA – Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Friday signed legislation allowing additional penalties to be imposed for crimes motivated by a victim’s race, religion, sexual orientation or other factors, removing Georgia from the dwindling list of U.S. states without a hate crimes law.

State lawmakers acted with haste to pass the legislation, which had previously been stalled, following the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, as well as recent nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality. Arbery was a 25-year-old Black man pursued and fatally shot while running near Brunswick, Georgia, in February. Three white men, including a father and son, are charged with murder in his death.

Kemp, a Republican, said Friday before signing the bill that it “does not fix every problem or right every wrong. But this bipartisan legislation is a powerful step forward. It’s a sign of progress, and it’s a milestone worth applauding.”

The law, which becomes effective July 1, will allow additional penalties to be imposed for certain crimes when motivated by a victim’s race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender or disability. It also mandates the collection and reporting of data on hate crimes investigated by law enforcement.

Georgia’s Supreme Court overturned an earlier hate crimes statute in 2004, saying it was too broad. Before Kemp’s signing of House Bill 426, Georgia was one of only four U.S. states without a hate crimes law.

Bipartisan support for the bill was thrown in doubt when Republicans added police as a protected class in a Senate committee late last week. But that language was moved into another bill under a deal struck between the parties.

Many business and political leaders, as well as civil rights organizations, have been vocal in pushing for passage of a hate crimes law in Georgia.

“The time to act is now,” a group of organizations including the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Metro Atlanta Chamber, the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP urged in a statement last week before the bill was passed.