by Robin Kemp

The Georgia Senate Rules Committee has dropped language from HB 426 that would have given first responders protected status against hate crimes. It also added language that would provide for data collection.

“I had ongoing discussions with the minority party for the larger part of two days and within our own Republican caucus, and we’ve reached a compromise that I think everybody will be pleased with,” Sen. Bill Cowsert said.

Rep. Billy Mitchell (D-Stone Mountain) and leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church have scheduled a 9 a.m. press conference on the bill Tuesday.

The bill, if passed, would provide for enhanced penalties when a felony or any of five misdemeanors is committed against someone because of their “race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability, (or) physical disability.”

The misdemeanors that would incur extra punishment if committed as hate crimes are simple assault, simple battery, battery, criminal trespass, and theft by taking.

The punishments as “high and aggravated misdemeanors” are the same as in the House version, Cowsert said, with a sentence of 6 to 12 months and a fine up to $5,000. Felonies attached to hate crimes would tack on an additional one to two years plus a $5,000 fine.

“Extensive reporting requirements” as suggested by the lieutenant governor’s office would gather data about hate crimes. Police officers would be required to report the circumstances surrounding an alleged hate crime. Each year, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation would release hate crimes statistics. However, the names of victims and perpetrators would be exempt from the Open Records Act, Cowsert said.

The bill also added “sex” as a protected category so that the language would parallel that of the Civil Rights Act.

Enhanced penalties for targeting first responders were moved to HB 838. That bill would  firefighter, police officer or paramedic — could face between one and five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. 

However, any such enhanced penalties would be at the judge’s discretion, Cowsert said.

The Senate Rules Committee meeting starts at 10:09, the bill is added for consideration at 16:18, and the amendment itself comes up at 28:20 minutes in on the video at

“We think it’s something that’s good for the State of Georgia, and something that’s good for the Senate to take the lead on,” Cowsert said.