Sen. Bill Cowsert, who represents Oconee, Clarke and Walton counties in the Georgia General Assembly, said he thinks the Senate is likely to pass a hate crimes bill after it comes back into session on Monday, but it will not be the bill passed by the Georgia House of Representatives last year.
Cowsert said he supports passage of a bill, and he thinks the bill that the Senate will produce “will be much more comprehensive” than the House Bill now before the Senate for consideration.
If the Senate passes its own bill or modifies the bill approved by the House, that bill will have to go back to the House for further action.
The House passed its version of a hate crimes bill, House Bill 426, in March of 2019, with 96 yes votes, and a bill needs 91 votes in the 180-member chamber for passage.
Both of Oconee County’s representatives, Houston Gaines and Marcus Wiedower, voted against House Bill 426.
Both Gaines and Wiedower opted not to respond to a question on where he stands on a hate crimes bill at this time.
UPDATE: Wiedower sent me an email shortly after the post saying he believes "there is time to craft legislation this session" and respond to any Senate bill sent back to the House. The message was signed by Wiedower and Gaines, and Gaines sent a separate email confirming that the response was a joint one from him and Wiedower.
Georgia is one of only four states in the county without a hate crimes bill.
|Cowsert Official Senate Photo|
House Bill 426 set sentencing guidelines for defendants who “intentionally selected any victim or group of victims or any property as the object of the offense because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability, or physical disability of such victim or group of victims.”
The bill was sponsored by Chuck Efstration, a Republican from Dacula in Gwinnett County, and had two other Republican and three Democratic co-sponsors.
The bill was only two pages long and dealt exclusively with sentencing.
Spencer Frye, who represents Clarke County in District 118 in the Georgia House, voted in favor of the bill. Frye is a Democrat, while Gaines and Wiedower are Republicans.
Email, Text Messages
I sent Gaines and Wiedower an email message on Wednesday and asked them: “Can you explain your vote for me and indicate where you stand today on the need for a Hate Crimes Bill?"
I followed up with a text message to both of them on Friday morning.
Neither of them responded to either the email (sent to both their personal as well as state addresses) or the text addresses (which I have used to communicate with both of them in the past and as recently as May 2).
Cowsert responded to my text message to him on Friday.
Gaines’ 117 House District is dominated in terms of registered voters by Clarke County but also includes small numbers of voters from Jackson and Barrow counties as well as three of Oconee County’s 12 precincts.
Wiedower’s 119 House District is roughly evenly split between Oconee and Clarke counties.
Stand Your Ground, Citizen Arrest
House Minority Leader Bob Trammell has called on the legislature to repeal Georgia’s citizen arrest statute and reform Georgia’s stand your ground law in light of the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arberty in Glynn County and other recent deaths involving black Americans.
I asked Gaines, Wiedower and Cowsert to “tell me whether you believe the state's citizen arrest law and stand your ground law need to be repealed?”
None of them answered that question.
The General Assembly last year also passed legislation protecting confederate statues in the state, with Cowsert, Gaines and Wiedower voting in favor, and Frye voting against the bill.
The Georgia General Assembly suspended its activity on March 13, the 29th day of a 40-day session, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The General Assembly must pass a budget for the state before the session ends.