FLORENCE, S.C. (WBTW) — Florence city leaders are a vote away from officially endorsing the adoption of a hate crimes law and making South Carolina the 49th state to put one on the books.
“I’m very pleased that as a council and as a (legislative) delegation, that we all agree this is something very important to our state and our community,” council member Bryan Braddock said at a Monday meeting.
Braddock is sponsoring a resolution urging the S.C. Senate to adopt H. 3014, also known as the “Clementa C. Pinckey Hate Crimes Act.”
The measure advanced through the House on an 84-31 vote and onto the Senate floor last March, but has since stalled.
The legislation “would add penalty enhancements for violent crimes where the victim was targeted because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, or religion,” adding up to five years in prison for someone convicted of murder, assault or other violent crime fueled by hatred of the victim’s race, sexual orientation, gender, religion or disability.
According to U.S. Department of Justice statistics, South Carolina saw 65 hate crimes in 2022.
Florence leaders are expected to back the resolution, joining other major cities including Columbia, Mount Pleasant and Myrtle Beach that have called for a statewide hate crimes bill.
Right now, just South Carolina and Wyoming lack one.
The act is named for Rev. Dr. Clementa C. Pinckney, a former state senator and pastor at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel AME Church, who was killed along with eight other church members when a white supremacist gunman opened fire during a 2015 bible study.
While proponents have remained steadfast in moving the bill forward to Gov. Henry McMaster, it’s profile has raised in recent months.
Over Thanksgiving weekend, a white Conway couple were accused of burning a cross in the direction of their Black neighbors. along Corbett Drive.
Officials have so far charged 27-year-old Alexis Hartnett and 28-year-old Worden Butler with second-degree harassment in connection with the incident.
State Sen. Mike Riechenbach, R-Florence, said the bill can only come back up for consideration through a procedure known as “special order,” which sets aside a specific day and time for debate on a single issue.
“It’s a very narrow margin right now. I think largely some of the issue we’re hearing is, folks don’t understand the bill,” Riechenbach told council members. Florence County’s nine-person legislative delegation unanimously support it.
“It’s an enhancement bill on a violent crime. It doesn’t criminalize speech. It doesn’t criminalize thought,” Riechenbach said. “I think the Florence County delegation can be a microcosm of what we’ll see statewide, that hate isn’t a partisan issue.”
Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.