Gov. Brian Kemp signs a hate crimes law.

Gov. Brian Kemp signs a hate crimes law.

After nearly 16 years, Georgia once again has a hate crimes law on the books.

Flanked by Democrats and Republicans from both chambers, Kemp signed HB 426 into law Friday afternoon at the Capitol.

The law imposes tougher penalties for those who are found guilty of  committing certain crimes against someone because of their race, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation or national origin.

The Georgia Supreme Court struck down a similar measure in 2004 for being unconstitutionally vague, and the current iteration languished in the Senate for more than a year until the killing of a Black man in Glynn County reignited a national conversation about race relations in America.

Three white men have been indicted by a grand jury on charges of murder of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot and killed while jogging in February.

House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) said that while Arbery’s mother could not make it to the signing, she expressed her support for the measure.

“We can send a message that Georgia is better than what we saw on that awful, sickening, disgusting video,” he said. “We in Georgia are better than that.”

Kemp said the law shows Georgia is a state “too great to hate” and called the signing an unprecedented moment.

“We witnessed a horrific hate-filled act of violence … we saw injustice with our own eyes,” he said. “Georgians protested to demand action, and state lawmakers – many who are gathered here today – rose to the occasion.”

Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula) and Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus) co-sponsored the bill and helped secure the bipartisan passage last year. Smyre, the longest-serving member of the House, called the signing one of his proudest legislative achievements.

“What a great day in the history of our state,” he said. “I am filled with joy and fulfillment, for on this day we stand before you as proud Georgians … Ahmaud Arbery’s death will not be in vain.”