State Rep. Meagan Hanson (R-Brookhaven) said she will file a hate crimes bill in the General Assembly Jan. 3, noting Georgia is one of only five states in the country without such a law.
The proposed law would add enhanced punishments for crimes committed against protected classes of people based on race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, mental disability and physical disability, Hanson said. Those are the same classes protected under the federal hate crimes law passed in 2010, she said. The final bill is still being tweaked, she said, and complete details are not yet available.
“It is an interesting political time right now … in the midst of what happened in Charlottesville,” Hanson said in an interview on why she decided to sponsor the bill.
In August, white supremacists marched in the streets of Charlottesville, Va., and waved Nazi flags while chanting against Jews and other minorities. A woman protesting the white supremacists was killed.
Hanson said she was convinced it was time to sponsor a bill after meeting and working with local leaders of the Anti-Defamation League, a national advocacy group pushing for state hate crimes legislation. She said she has also talked to prosecutors and to Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan who support such a bill.
“It’s shocking that Georgia doesn’t have this [hate crimes legislation] on the books,” she said.
The FBI defines a hate crime as one committed with the “added element of bias” against someone because of who they are who someone thinks they are. For example, if someone spray paints a racial slur on a black church, that could be considered a hate crime, or if someone beats up someone because they are gay, that could also be considered a hate crime.
A person convicted of a hate crime typically has added punishment, such as a longer prison sentence, known as “penalty enhancements.”
At one time, Georgia had a hate crimes law. In 2000, the General Assembly passed a bill calling for enhanced punishment for crimes committed due to “bias or prejudice.” The state Supreme Court in 2004 threw the law out, however, calling it “unconstitutionally vague” for not specifying biases, such as a crime committed against someone because of their religion or sexual orientation.
Hate crimes legislation has been raised in the General Assembly several times over the years, but has never gained serious traction. Hanson said she understands passage of such a bill is an uphill battle.
“I am not unaware of the struggles this bill faces,” she said. “We are taking it one step at a time.”
Those struggles basically fall along party lines, she said.
“I believe both sides of the aisle find this to be a partisan issue,” she said. “To me, it’s good policy and should be non-partisan. It saddens me a little bit that this is a partisan issue.” She said state Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) has said he will sign on to her bill.
Last year, when Hanson faced Taylor Bennett for House District 80, which includes Brookhaven, some of Sandy Springs and Chamblee, she came under fire by some activists for what they called anti-transgender tweets.
With gender identity included as a protected class in her bill, how does Hanson plan to respond to potential criticism for her past statements?
“I used the word ‘tranny’ in 2011. I didn’t know it was a bad word then. I don’t use it today,” she said. “All I can say is sorry.”
The other tweet called out an AJC tweet for a story about two transgender teens who fell in love.
“[The story] was just about a normal, every day thing that happens. They were trying to sensationalize something that is normal,” she said.
She said she was never contacted about the tweets and was not given the “benefit of the doubt” by her detractors. She said she is supportive of LGBT issues and opposes “religious liberty” bills.
“My record speaks for itself,” she said.
She noted Georgia Equality, an LGBT advocacy organization, is one of the organization’s supporting her bill.
She faces re-election in 2018.