South Carolina’s House of Representatives gave a key approval on Wednesday to a bill that would create the state’s first hate crime legislation, CBS affiliate WLTX reported. South Carolina is one of just three states that do not have similar bills, which increase criminal penalties for people who commit hate crimes.
House Bill 3620 would increase fines and jail time for those who commit violent crimes based on a victim’s race, religion, sex, gender, age, national origin, sexual orientation, or disability. It would add a penalty of up to five years in jail and up to $10,000 in fines for crimes including murder, armed robbery and criminal sexual conduct.
The bill was approved on second reading with a 79-29 vote, WLTX reported. The bill will face another reading in the House, which WLTX described as “usually a formality,” and will also require Senate approval. WLTX said it’s not yet clear if the Senate will consider the bill this session.
A local sheriff backed the measure when the bill was in committee, telling lawmakers that when Hispanic community members were targeted, he could not bring additional charges against the perpetrators because there wasn’t a hate crime law in place.
“For three weeks in Richland County, we had two individuals that terrorized our Hispanic community. In a three-week period of time, they robbed 27 Hispanics in 17 separate robberies,” the sheriff said, according to WLTX.
“I urge you on behalf of law enforcement, on behalf of those victims, please do something,” he added. “Please pass this bill, we need it.”