42 Lawmakers Silent On Hate Crimes 'No' Vote, 2 Explain Their Reasoning
GPB News asked all 44 state lawmakers who voted against the historic hate crimes bill for an explanation on their votes. Only two responded with an on-the-record comment.
One representative was Philip Singleton, a Republican from Sharpsburg, who conceded that many lawmakers who voted "no" were likely afraid of the backlash.
"There's a lot of people that are afraid of the political ramifications," he said. "Nobody wants to be labeled as a bigot."
The other was Rep. Michael Caldwell, a Republican from Woodstock, who sent GPB a statement following the initial publication of this article:
“I supported the penalty enhancements in HB426 for hate crimes and believe they are a positive protection for all people in Georgia. My no vote was a product of the last minute addition of section 2 that created a new statewide registry of bias crime reports for anyone accused of a hate crime. That set up a major privacy concern and risks eroding the innocent-until-proven guilty bedrock of our justice system, and the House was given only minutes to consider the impact of that new section in the most important bill we considered this session.”
Gov. Brian Kemp signed the hate crimes bill into law Friday afternoon. The bill adds extra penalties for those found guilty of committing certain crimes against someone because of their race, religion, sexual orientation or disability. It also requires the creation of a database to track hate crimes across the state.
The bill overwhelmingly passed the state House and Senate earlier this week, but six senators and 38 representatives voted against it.
GPB News sought explanations from the office of each legislator. Of those contacted, most staffers said they would call or email back with comment, but as of publication time on Friday, GPB News received no response.
GPB News reporter Sarah Rose also spent Thursday at the state Capitol in an attempt to get comment from those who opposed the bill. Rose made offers to each representative's office to allow them to speak on the record on their time on Thursday.
Some refused to comment altogether.
- Rep. Sam Watson's (R-Moultrie) office declined to comment, saying he was "too busy" to explain his reasoning behind the vote.
- Sen. Tyler Harper's (R-Ocilla) office declined comment, telling GPB News the lawmaker didn't want to talk about his vote.
- Sen. Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming) told GPB News he planned to comment following the end of the legislative session.
- Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville) left a voicemail response Thursday saying he would be willing to speak, but as of publication time did not respond to a follow-up phone call.
During the session earlier this week, Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen) spoke on the floor about his opposition to the bill, saying he worried about the ramifications for religious people who spoke about their opinions on LGBTQ issues.
Heath's office did not respond to additional requests for comment by email. Heath's office also declined a request to speak in person with GPB News' Rose at the Capitol on Thursday.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Georgia Legislature Passes Historic Hate Crimes Bill With Bipartisan Support
Singleton said that while he couldn't speak for his colleagues that had yet to offer their own reasonings for opposing the bill, he believed the bill opened a window for "judicial activism."
"You could see a judge in Macon apply the law very differently and much harsher to one specific group of people," he said, "And a judge in Atlanta do the exact opposite and apply the law very differently to another group of people."
Singleton said he was disgusted by the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, just like many of the proponents of the bill, but his issue was with the bill's distinguishment of "protected classes."
"I would have struggled very hard to find any way that I could support a bill that started punishing people based on subgroups and then putting a third party in there to determine what they're thinking," he said.
As for the lawmakers who voted against the bill, Singleton said he believes his colleagues are worried about the perception around their votes.
"It's very easy to mischaracterize why people would have voted no," he said. "It's very, very easy to assume that you understand why someone would vote no."
GPB News has left the door open to publish responses from any member of the Georgia legislature who voted no on the bill.
Full list of "no" votes:
GEORGIA STATE SENATORS:
- Greg Dolezal
- Frank Ginn
- Steve Gooch
- Tyler Harper
- Bill Heath
- Burt Jones
GEORGIA STATE REPRESENTATIVES:
- Timothy Barr
- Matt Barton
- Timothy Benton
- Josh Bonner
- Michael Caldwell
- Wes Cantrell
- John Carson
- Emory Dunahoo
- Ginny Erhart
- Matthew Gambill
- Sheri Gilligan
- Micah Gravley
- Joseph Gullett
- Matthew Gurlier
- Dewayne Hill
- Rick Jasperse
- Jeff Jones
- David Knight
- Darin LaHood
- Dominic LaRiccia
- Danny Mathis
- Tom McCall
- Martin Momtahan
- Colton Moore
- Greg Morris
- Colton Morris
- Clay Pirkle
- Jimmy Pruett
- Ken Pullin
- Jason Ridley
- Mitchell Scoggins
- Ed Setzler
- Philip Singleton
- Steve Tarvin
- Scot Turner
- Sam Watson
- Bill Yearta
Micah Oran Johnston, Sofi Gratas, Jenna Catherine Sanders, Ellen Eldridge, Ada Wood, Lars Lonnroth and Nicole Sadek contributed to this story.