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Democratic lawmakers call for SC hate crimes bill’s passage as it stalls in Senate

Published: Feb. 1, 2022 at 7:16 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A bill that would attach more severe penalties to violent crimes determined to be hate crimes in South Carolina needs only approval in the state Senate and a signature from Gov. Henry McMaster to become law.

However, that bill’s future appears doubtful at this point.

H.3620, known as the Clementa C. Pinckney Hate Crimes Act, is named in honor of the late state senator and pastor, who was one of the nine people murdered in a racist attack at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church in 2015.

The bill passed the state House of Representatives last year with bipartisan support, and the Senate Judiciary Committee narrowly voted in the waning days of the 2021 legislative session to send the bill to the Senate floor for debate.

The bill has since stalled in the Senate, where the chamber’s Republican majority does not have much interest in bringing a debate or vote on it, according to Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R – Edgefield.

“It’s going to have a very hard time in the Senate,” Massey said Tuesday.

Earlier in the afternoon, a group of House Democrats joined representatives from other organizations to urge senators to pass H.3620 in the next few months, before the legislative session ends. If that deadline comes before the bill is passed, legislators would have to start the lawmaking process over again next year.

“Great senators over there,” Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D – Charleston, said. “But now we need them to stand up and show a little backbone.”

The bill would only allow a hate crimes charge and additional penalties — up to five extra years in prison and another $10,000 in fines — to be added on to charges for violent crimes, such as murder or assault.

Nonviolent crimes, like vandalism, would not be covered under this proposal.

Prosecutors could seek these additional penalties if the perpetrator of those crimes targeted victims based on actual or perceived race, color, religion, sex, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, age, political opinion, or the exercise of a person’s political rights and privileges.

“These crimes go well beyond individual and terrorize the entire victim’s community, and we can’t lose sight of that,” Rep. Beth Bernstein, D – Richland, said. “If these crimes go unaddressed, it can cause entire communities to feel isolated, disenfranchised, angry, and scared.”

Senate Republicans against the bill have given a variety of reasons for their opposition.

Massey said he does not believe this legislation is necessary, though South Carolina remains one of just two states without a state hate crimes law, along with Wyoming.

“South Carolina has taken a pretty tough stand on those issues, and we don’t have a need for something additional just so we can check a box that some groups have, because it seems to me like that’s what this effort really is about,” he said.

The Senate Majority Leader noted the white supremacist shooter convicted of the nine murders at Mother Emanuel already faces the death penalty after federal prosecutors tried him under the federal hate crimes law.

The laws already in place are sufficient, Massey argued.

“We have responded to those things, and we have responded the right way, and frankly, our juries have been pretty hard on people who have committed those types of acts,” he said.

But backers contend this legislation would send a message to anyone committing these crimes in South Carolina, “that they will be held accountable and that they will bear the full weight of the law,” Rep. Pat Henegan, D – Marlboro, said.

Among the supporters for the passage of hate crimes legislation are the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce and some of the state’s largest employers, including Walmart and IBM, who say the absence of this law could deter companies from expanding in South Carolina.

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