South Carolina State of State

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (right) fist bumps state Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, ahead of McMaster's State of the State address on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Columbia, S.C.

(The Center Square) – South Carolina could be the 48th state to encode a hate crime law after the House approved a bill to increase penalties for violent physical crimes committed against a victim because of their race, color, religion, sex, gender, national origin, sexual orientation or disability.

The House approved House Bill 3620, the Clementa C. Pinckney Hate Crimes Act, on Wednesday without debate in a 79-29 vote. It was moved Thursday to the Senate after its procedural third reading, beating the crossover deadline.

South Carolina, Arkansas and Wyoming are the nation’s only three states without a hate law on the books. The Arkansas House and Senate are pondering hate crime legislation. A proposed House hate crime bill never advanced in Wyoming, where lawmakers concluded their 2021 session this week.

South Carolina’s proposed Clementa C. Pinckney Hate Crimes Act is named for Clementa Pinckney, a pastor who was among the nine Black people murdered by Dylann Roof during Bible study in June 2015 at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

Filed by Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, the bill has 10 Republicans among its 40 co-sponsors, including House Speaker Rep. Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, and House Majority Leader Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill.

“The passage of H.3620 marks an historic occasion and comes after months of hard work and bipartisan effort,” Lucas tweeted after Wednesday’s vote. “This legislation is a monumental step forward as [South Carolina] joins 47 other states in ensuring that heinous, violent crimes committed and motivated by hate are justly prosecuted.”

Unlike past failed attempts to adopt a hate crimes bill, HB 3620 has bipartisan support in the South Carolina Legislature, from the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, the University of South Carolina, key corporations, law enforcement and equality advocates.

“This is a huge step forward for South Carolina and will let the world know that our state is not a place that condones crimes motivated by hate,” South Carolina Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bob Morgan said.

Under HB 3620, penalties for violent crimes such as murder, assault, armed robbery or criminal sexual misconduct are increased by up to five years imprisonment and an additional fine up to $10,000 if they are deemed “hate” crimes.

HB 3620 originally proposed penalties for stalking of up to a $5,000 fine and three years imprisonment and, for malicious injury offenses, a fine up to $1,000 and an additional one year imprisonment.

After extensive committee debate, which included the removal and restoration of “sexual orientation” as a protected class in HB 3620, its adoption engendered no further debate on the House floor Wednesday.

There was reaction, however, including a Facebook post by Rep. Victor Dabney, R-Camden, who was among the 29 House Republicans who voted against HB 3620.

“I am 63 years old and have spent my entire life watching our society give in to the liberals, and it’s never enough,” Dabney wrote. “Our entire way of life has been vilified by the left; it’s our whiteness and our ‘straightness’ that keeps getting in the way.”

Bills not approved in one chamber cannot be transmitted to the other after Thursday, essentially killing them for this legislative session, which ends May 13.

Among bills that await the needed chamber nod to stay alive in the 2021 session is this year’s version of The Compassionate Care Act, Senate Bill 150, which would make South Carolina the 38th state to legalize medical marijuana.

Proponents feverishly have been lobbying senators to hold a floor vote on SB 150, filed by Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, since it passed through the Senate Medical Affairs Committee in a 9-5 vote on March 31.