Oconee County’s two state representatives, Houston Gaines and Marcus Wiedower, reversed course on Tuesday and voted with the majority in approving a modified version of House Bill 426, referred to as a Hate Crimes Bill.
Both Gaines and Wiedower had voted against the original version of the bill when it narrowly passed the Georgia House of Representatives in March of last year.
Sen. Bill Cowsert, who represents Oconee County as well as parts of Clarke and Walton counties, had been at the center of negotiations in the Senate to bring the bill up to vote and back to the House.
The original bill set stiffer sentences for crimes where the defendant “intentionally selected any victim or any property as the object of the offense because of such victim’s or group of victims’ actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender mental disability or physical disability.”
The modified version of the bill passed on Tuesday spelled out the meaning of misdemeanor, modified the sentence for felonies, and set up a procedures for law enforcement officers to file a “Bias Crime Report” with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for hate crimes.
Gaines And Wiedower On Revision
Gaines said in a text message on Wednesday evening that “I’m glad we were able to get this bill over the finish line. The addition of reporting requirements and the changes related to certain offenses were critical to me.
“This is a good bill, and I was pleased to support it,” he said.
Wiedower, also in a text message, said, “There was a lot of hard work put into this legislation. We saw some key additions made to this bill and I was glad to see it pass.”
Gaines represents the three Oconee County precincts of Athens Academy, Marswood Hall and Bogart in the General Assembly. His 117th House District also includes parts of Barrow, Clarke and Jackson counties.
Wiedower represents the remaining nine precincts of Oconee County and part of Clarke County that make up the 119th House District.
Both are Republicans.
House Bill 838
Cowsert, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had authored a modification to House Bill 426 that added first responders (fire fighters, peace officers, and emergency medical technicians) to the list of victims covered by the bill.
The revised bill was passed out of the Judiciary Committee but did not have the support of the full Senate.
Following passage of the modified version of House Bill 426 minus the reference to first responders, the Senate tagged a reference to first responders to another bill, House Bill 838, and sent that bill back to the House for passage.
The new version of the bill sets sentences for specified crimes when a person acts “maliciously and with the specific intent to intimidate, harass, or terrorize another person because of that person's actual or perceived employment as a first responder.”
When that bill came back to the House on Tuesday, Gaines and Cowsert both supported it.
Cowsert voted in favor of the bill in the Senate. Cowsert also is a Republican.