Hate Crimes Law Supported in Poll Seventy-Five Percent in Georgia Favor Increasing Fines and Jail Sentences

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ATLANTA -- Nearly three-fourths of Georgians support passage of a state law providing stiffer penalties for hate crimes, according to a poll commissioned by a gay civil rights group.

Seventy-four percent of 500 registered voters surveyed by telephone from Sept. 19 to 22 said they "strongly" or "somewhat" favor increasing fines and jail sentences for crimes against people because of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability, according to results released yesterday during a press conference. Another 21 percent opposed such a law and 5 percent had no opinion.

"The people of Georgia have made it clear," said Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, sponsor of a hate-crimes bill introduced into the state Senate earlier this year. "The time for a hate crimes law in Georgia has come."

Several widely publicized incidents of violence and vandalism have focused national attention on hate crimes in the past year or so, including the dragging death of a black Texan, the murder of a gay student in Wyoming and a shooting spree at a Jewish day-care center in Los Angeles.

President Clinton was in Atlanta late last month pushing for hate crimes legislation at the national level.

Fort's bill calls for increasing the maximum fine for a misdemeanor from $1,000 to $5,000 if the offense is a hate crime. In the case of a felony, defendants who commit hate crimes could face up to an additional $5,000 in fines and five additional years in prison. …