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South Carolina House passes hate crimes bill

The measure would toughen penalties on those who commit crimes against a victim because of their race, color, sex, gender, and other reasons.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina is one step closer to joining 48 other states with hate crime laws, after the House passed a bill allowing harsher punishments for certain violent crimes against particular groups. 

Lawmakers approved the measure on a 84-31 vote Wednesday afternoon. 

The house first passed a hate crime bill in 2021, but it stalled in the Senate. Supporters hope this year will be different. 

"This bill will tell the state and the world we are one in South Carolina," said Rep. Wendell Gilliard, a Democrat from Charleston who's the lead sponsor for the legislation. 

The measure would toughen penalties on those who commit crimes against a victim because of their race, color, sex, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, or physical or mental disability.

The bill would also require a suspect to face a fine of up to $10,000 and could be sentenced to five more years in prison.

"This legislation as we pass it to the Senate provides the healing for so many who have been hurt by persons who harbor hate in their heart and their actions," said Rep. Ivory Thigpen, a Democrat from Richland County. 

Gilliard began fighting for hate crime legislation in 2015 after nine parishioners were gunned down by a confessed white supremacist at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. The legislation is named the Clementa Pinckney Hate Crimes Act in honor of the late state senator and pastor who died in the shooting. 

"South Carolina saw firsthand on June 7th, 2015 what a crime motivated by hate looks like," Gilliard said. 

Opponents on the right, including members of the Freedom Caucus, argue that hate crime laws suppress free speech or are unnecessary.

"If you can't discriminate based on sexual orientation you may have to bake that wedding cake for the gay couple even though you object on religious grounds," Rep. John McCravy, a Republican from Greenwood. 

Throughout the debate several Republicans spoke up in favor of the bill and joined Democrats in approving the proposal. 

"I know most South Carolinians would support these things and say this is not who we are, it applies to us here and it applies to those coming here," said Rep. Jason Elliot, a Republican from Greenville. 

Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey has not yet commented on the bill and its chances of passing in the Senate. 

According to U.S. Department of Justice statistics from 2021 — the most recent year available — South Carolina law enforcement agencies reported 106 suspected hate crimes, with assault and intimidation being the most common offenses.


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