South Carolina lawmakers pre-file hate crime bill as FBI reports uptick

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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – South Carolina lawmakers pre-filed a hate crime bill Wednesday that would create enhanced punishments for crimes found to be bias-based.

The bill was pre-filed by five representatives, including Beth Bernstein (D-H78.)

Another hate crime bill- H.3063- was introduced to the House earlier this year and remains in committee.

Meanwhile, the FBI released new numbers last week, showing the number of reported hate crimes across the country.

While hate crimes decreased overall nationwide, reports went up in the Palmetto State.

The number of reported hate crimes climbed from 23 reports in 2016 to 11 reports in 2018. The number of law enforcement agencies reporting these stats increased as well from 21 to 52.

Some lawmakers think passing a hate crime bill would help to curb some of those trends.

“I think this law would actually certainly help in combating some of the numbers there,” Representative Robert Williams (D-Darlington) said. He’s a co-sponsor of the hate crime bill introduced earlier in the year. “We should not be discriminating based on your race, your color, your sexual orientation, or any of those things.”

Bill H.3063 would mandate consecutive sentences if someone was convicted of committing a crime because of the victim’s race, religion, color, sex, age, national origin, sexual orientation, or homelessness.

If prosecutors are able to prove hate was the motive, that additional sentence would be served following the one for the original crime.

According to this bill, the sentence may range anywhere from two to 15 years and could also include a $2,000 to $10,000 fine.

Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson said this bill could provide more tools for prosecutors.

“It may be able to open itself up to prove why we believe that this person did this particular crime,” Richardson said. “That may bring in stuff like Facebook posts, or decorations or you know flags or anything that is symbolic for the reasoning for this.”

Richardson added he isn’t surprised a bill like this has taken so long to get through in South Carolina.

“South Carolina is usually about last to everything,” he said. “But it would give us another tool to be able to explain why this sort of stuff happened. Presently if we tried to put in motive and it dealt with race or something so combustible, a judge may very well say ‘I’m not allowing you to get into that reasoning for it.’”

The similar bill that was pre-filed Wednesday features similar provisions. Instead of assigning consecutive sentences, though, it mandates enhancements to the original sentence if the crime was proved to be bias-based.

Representative Bernstein said the bill was modeled after Wisconsin’s hate crime law, which has been upheld by the Supreme Court.

Rep. Bernstein said critics will say a person convicted of a crime will already spend time in prison without the added hate crime conviction. She said another common rebuttal is a concern about criminalizing someone’s thinking process.

Representative Williams says H.3063 has the chance to pass next year.

Count on News13 for updates on this story when the legislative session begins in January.

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