Harsher penalties for crimes based on race, faith, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
That’s the basis of a new bill being pre-filed in the South Carolina legislature designed to better prosecute hate crimes.
Right now South Carolina is one of only four states that do not have a hate crime law on the books.
“The hate crimes bill would enhance the penalty for a crime committed on the basis of hate and violence,” explains Rep. Beth Bernstein, House District 78.
Both Democrats and Republicans have signed on to the bill, which would set harsher penalties for crimes based on race, faith, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
There were 108 hate crimes in South Carolina last year alone according to FBI statistics.
Crimes that South Carolina knows all too well.
Crimes like the massacre committed by a white supremacist at Mother Emanuel AME Church in 2015. nine people, including Pastor and South Carolina Representative Clementa Pinckney, were killed.
The shooter, Dylan Roof sits on death row after being convicted of federal charges.
“The last thing that came out of their mouths was the fact that it was a hate crime it was a hate crime,” says Rep. Wendell Gilliard, (D) District 111.
South Carolina Representative Wendell Gilliard already filed a hate crime bill last session, House Bill 3063, which passed a judicial sub-committee earlier this year, which he says gave it “a heartbeat’.
He signed on this latest bill as well. Believing a combination of the legislation will be the best way for it to pass.
“I’m high on it,” said Gilliard. “I think its really going to happen, it is way overdue and its something we definitely need.”
“One hate crime is committed in the U.S. every 90 minutes and recent FBI statistics report an alarming increase in the last several years,” said Bernstein. “These are some of the most heinous crimes committed in a society because the victims are sought out and targeted based on their beliefs or identification and our community then suffers as a whole.”
“Hate groups are on the rise in the state of South Carolina,” said Gilliard. “That’s a sure indication when you have a rise in hate groups, you will have an increase in hate crimes. So we got to get on the ball because it’s written on the wall we need this law and we need it now..”
A sentiment echoed by members of the LGBTQ group Lowcountry Pride. They say as long as people of all races and sexual orientations are included in the bill its a big step forward.. and long overdue.
“South Carolina cannot stand in the way of hate crimes laws. We cannot sit there and say well we will give it some people and not to others. We cannot do a hate crimes law that only gives protection to people fo color but not the LGBTQ community,” said Mitch Seigel of Lowcountry Pride.
“If we can’t find a way after Mother Emanuel to turn around and say we need to respect people as humans and not on any basis other than that, then we are not somehow in our humanity, we are not doing quote biblical work.”
The hope is by pre-filing the bill and possibly combining it with another that passed committee last session, there will be more time for South Carolina lawmakers on both sides of the aisle come to an agreement next year.
Bluffton Representative Weston Newton spoke to the impact this can have on the perception of our state and business climate.
“The business community recognizes that South Carolina’s image impacts whether companies want to move here and call South Carolina home. As one of only 4 states without hate crimes legislation, this can unnecessarily put South Carolina in a negative light,” said Newton.
Arkansas, Wyoming, and Georgia are the other states without hate crime laws.
In 2004 Georgia’s Supreme Court overturned a hate crime law passed in 2000 calling it “unconstitutionally vague.”
Bills that would have brought Georgia in line with federal law failed to pass in the past two legislative sessions.
The Georgia House of Representatives passed a bill setting sentencing guidelines for hate crimes back in March, but it stalled in the Senate.