Gov. Kemp signs Georgia hate crime bill into law

ATLANTA — Gov. Brian Kemp signed Georgia’s new hate crime bill into law Friday, in front of dozens of lawmakers in the State Capitol rotunda.

The Georgia Senate, and then the House, approved the hate crime legislation Tuesday in a largely bipartisan vote.

“This is certainly an unprecedented moment in our state as well as our nation,” Kemp said. “Georgian’s protested to demand action and state lawmakers rose to the occasion.”

Until the governor signed the bill, Georgia was one of four states without Hate Crime legislation. The Georgia Supreme Court threw out a previous version in 2004 because it was too broad.

The new law would include additional penalties and sentences for any crime motivated by a victim’s race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender or disability.

“Under this Gold Dome there are plenty of disagreements and division, but today we stand together as Republicans and Democrats, Black and white, male and female from rural and urban and suburban communities to affirm a powerful but simple motto: Georgia is a state too great to hate,” Kemp said.

Columbus lawmaker Calvin Smyre said the law filled him with joy and fulfillment. Smyre has served in the House for 46 years and fellow lawmakers credit his experience and political acumen for guiding the bill through the Capitol.

“We will never, ever, ever, ever tolerate hate in our state. God bless you and thank you very much,” Smyre said to his colleagues before the bill signing.

House Speaker David Ralston said the video of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery convinced many lawmakers that the time to pass the bill was now.

“We can send the message that Georgia is better than what we saw on that awful, sickening, disgusting video,” Ralston said.

“It doesn’t fix every problem or right every wrong, but this bipartisan legislation is a powerful step forward,” Kemp said.

Last-minute changes nearly derailed the process and stalled the bill. A last-minute amendment to include first responders to the list of protected groups of people was pulled late Monday night, to clear the way for Tuesday’s vote.

Protesters showed up at the Capitol to protest the law, demanding the governor veto the bill because it stripped out those protections.

The Georgia House originally passed the bill last year. It sat in a Senate committee since then, but after all that’s happened in Georgia and across the country, lawmakers took it up again.

The new law goes into effect July 1. It is not retroactive for crimes committed before that date.