South Carolina Senate panel advances hate crimes bill

South Carolina Senate panel advances hate crimes bill
© Greg Nash

South Carolina's state Senate advanced a bill on Tuesday that would strengthen the penalties for hate crimes in the state, though the bill's future remains uncertain.

The Post and Courier reported that the state's Senate Judiciary Committee voted in a bipartisan manner to advance a bill to the Senate floor that would allow a judge to slap defendants with up to an additional five years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines if it is determined that a conviction for a violent crime was committed with the aim of targeting specific characteristics.

The bill passed the committee Tuesday after lawmakers voted to add age and political opinions to the protected characteristics in the bill.

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The newspaper reported that some are considering amendments that would change the legislation to impose mandatory minimum sentences for hate crimes rather than allowing judges to lengthen existing sentences.

“If somebody served 15 years and they’re rehabilitated, at that point I think they need to get out,” said state Sen. Rex Rice (R), according to the newspaper. “Right now we’ve got a problem with overcrowding in our corrections facilities and I think this just makes it worse.”

The chairman of the committee reportedly said that the bill will face a more contentious debate in the weeks ahead after joining with several committee Republicans and every Democrat on the panel to advance the bill.

“I make no grand allusions in advancing this bill that it will have life, but again, that is the hope here,” said state Sen. Luke Rankin (R), according to the Post and Courier.

South Carolina and Wyoming are the only two states without hate crime legislation on the books.