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South Carolina Hate Crime Bill Backers Realize Time Running Out

Rep. Beth Bernstein and Rep. Wendell Gillard Hate Crimes Bill
Jeffrey Collins/AP
South Carolina state Rep. Beth Bernstein, D-Columbia, left, and Rep. Wendell Gillard, D-Charleston, right, listen to a Senate hearing about a hate crime bill they both sponsored, Wednesday, April 21, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. The Senate is considering the hate crime bill passed in April by the House. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Supporters of making South Carolina the next-to-last state in the U.S. to pass a hate crime law acknowledged Wednesday they are running out of time in this year's legislative session.

A House-passed bill was sent to the full Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday after Democratic senators asked their Republican colleagues on a subcommittee to hold off on their objections at least until the next step.

“This is going to be a difficult bill to get out of the Senate this year,” said Sen. Gerald Malloy, a Democrat from Hartsville.

If it doesn't pass before the regular session ends May 13, the hate crimes bill would stay alive at its same place in the Senate in 2022.

Again Wednesday, much of the debate centered on religious groups that do not like allowing prosecutors to seek a harsher punishment for a hate crime if someone is attacked for their gender or sexual orientation. They aren't protesting other classifications like race, age, religion or disability.

"I don’t want people for any reason to be the target of bigotry or hatred or prejudice. But I'm telling you that Christian evangelicals who hold a high view of scripture are also under attack — being considered people who are guilty of hate speech for holding a Biblical understanding of sexuality," said Tony Beam, vice-president for student life and Christian worldview at North Greenville University.

Protections for sexual orientation, creed, gender, age and ancestry were removed from the House bill, leading many sponsors to say they were considering pulling their support. They were restored before the bill reached the House floor, but lawmakers removed penalty enhancements for harassment or vandalism, leaving the proposal to only cover violent crimes.

The bill would add up to five years in prison for someone convicted of a murder, assault or other violent crime fueled by hate.

South Carolina started this year as one of three states without a hate crimes law. Arkansas' governor last week signed into law a proposal that would require offenders to serve at least 80% of their sentence if they committed a serious violent felony against someone because of their “mental, physical, biological, cultural, political, or religious beliefs or characteristics.”

The Anti-Defamation League said the Arkansas measure is not a true hate crimes law.

Wyoming also does not have a hate crimes law.


Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.