Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

New Hate Crimes Bill Faces Uphill Fight; Revision of Stricken Law Not a Priority

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

New Hate Crimes Bill Faces Uphill Fight; Revision of Stricken Law Not a Priority

Article excerpt

Byline: BRIAN BASINGER, The Times-Union

ATLANTA -- Two months after the Georgia Supreme Court threw out the state's hate crimes law for being unconstitutional, there appears to be little chance a new version of the controversial bill will pass in next year's legislative session.

Both Republican lawmakers, who now control both legislative chambers, and some of their Democratic counterparts say their priorities for 2005 don't include passing a revised hate crimes bill.

Such laws are used to provide enhanced prison sentences for those convicted of victimizing a person or a person's property because of prejudice or bias.

Still, party leaders in both chambers painted a grim picture last week for those lawmakers who want a new hate crimes bill on the books.

"If you are mugged, you are still just as hurt and just as robbed, whether the criminal was a racist or a thug," said Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Johnson, R-Savannah. "A crime is a crime and the motive behind it shouldn't matter."

House Minority Leader-elect DuBose Porter, D-Dublin, said the top tier of his party's legislative agenda also doesn't include a new hate crimes bill.

"Our people are worried about health care, our people are worried about education, our people are worried about job training," Porter said.

While 48 states had previously placed hate crimes/hate laws in effect, Georgia was the only one that didn't indicate which groups were protected under the statute. Most other states use the law as a punishment for offenses motivated by a victim's race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or disability.

It was the "vague" language of Georgia's statute that led the seven justices of the state's highest court to strike down the four-year-old hate crimes law in late October.

The law ended up before the court after a white couple convicted of beating two black brothers in Atlanta appealed their enhanced punishments under the hate crimes statute. After pleading guilty to aggravated assault, Angela Pisciotta and Christopher Botts had been sentenced to six years in prison for the 2002 attack, as well as an additional two years behind bars under the hate crimes statute.

Authoring the court's opinion, Justice Carol Hunstein said that under the Georgia law, a court could enhance punishment against a criminal for almost any possible type of bias or prejudice, "no matter how obscure, whimsical or unrelated to the victim it may be."

Hunstein argued the law could be used, for example, against "a rabid sports fan convicted of uttering terroristic threats to a victim selected for wearing a competing team's baseball cap; a campaign worker convicted of trespassing for defacing a political opponent's yard signs; [or] a performance car fanatic convicted of stealing a Ferrari. …

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