Duncan promises hate crimes bill as House balks at inaction

In this May 17, 2020, photo, a recently painted mural of Ahmaud Arbery is on display in Brunswick, Ga., where the 25-year-old man was shot and killed in February. It was painted by Miami artist Marvin Weeks.

ATLANTA - Two business organizations with major political clout under the Gold Dome are asking the General Assembly to pass a hate-crimes bill when lawmakers return to the Capitol in June.

The heads of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and Metro Atlanta Chamber issued a joint statement Wednesday, May 27, praising last year’s bipartisan passage in the state House of Representatives of legislation sponsored by Georgia Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, and urging the Georgia Senate to follow suit.

“Recent support from statewide leaders further demonstrates that momentum is growing for Georgia to join the 45 other states that already have these laws on the books,” wrote Chris Clark, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and Hala Moddelmog, president and CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber.

“When the Georgia General Assembly reconvenes in June, the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Georgia Chamber urge swift passage of hate crimes legislation that aligns our state’s laws with our values.”

The statewide momentum for the hate-crimes bill the two chamber leaders cite stems from the widespread outrage following the arrests of a father and son in Glynn County recently in the February shooting death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, who was jogging in their neighborhood. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation made a third arrest in the case.

The two chambers of commerce have helped lead the opposition in recent years to legislative attempts to pass a religious liberty bill in Georgia, arguing it would hurt Georgia’s image as a business-friendly state by fostering same-sex discrimination. Business leaders praised then-Gov. Nathan Deal for vetoing religious liberty legislation that made it through the General Assembly in 2016.

House Bill 426 cleared the House of Representatives last year 96-64, primarily supported by Democrats but with some Republican support, including Efstration and GOP cosponsors Ron Stephens of Savannah and Deborah Silcox of Sandy Springs. The bill allows additional penalties for criminal defendants if it is determined the victim was selected based on his or her “race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability."

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