South Carolina still doesn't have a hate crimes bill. Myrtle Beach leaders say it's time.

  • In US
  • 2023-02-01 12:31:34Z
  • By Myrtle Beach Sun News

Without a statewide hate crime bill, America's fastest growing city could be missing economic development opportunities, and could lessen punishments for people accused of committing acts of violence based on biases.

Myrtle Beach leaders say that's why they're pressing state lawmakers and Gov. Henry McMaster to finally get a law on the books after multiple failed attempts.

And it's likely America's fastest growing city - along with every other Palmetto State community - is missing economic development and tourism opportunities without a prohibition on hateful acts, officials say.

"In my opinion, Myrtle Beach needs to be on board with this for many reasons," Mayor Brenda Bethune said at a Jan. 31 city council workshop. "We've seen the horrible packets that have been delivered to the Jewish community, and that falls under this."

The city council next month is expected to adopt a resolution calling on legislators to enact one of five bills - filed by Republicans and Democrats - are awaiting deliberation in the General Assembly. All would do the same thing, if approved without any changes: Enhanced penalties for certain violent crimes committed against a person based on factors including perceived age, political opinion, race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender, national origin or physical or mental disability.

Anyone convicted under a state hate crime provision could see penalties increased by up to five years' imprisonment and fines of up to $10,000.

Palmetto State prosecutors must rely on their federal counterparts to pursue hate crime charges. According to U.S. Department of Justice statistics from 2021 - the most recent year available - South Carolina law enforcement agencies reported 106 suspected hate crimes, with assault and intimidation being the most common offenses.

South Carolina doesn't currently have its own hate crimes law. Instead, prosecutors must rely on their federal counterparts to pursue hate crime charges under the federal hate crimes law, but that rarely happens except in the case of high-profile crimes.

South Carolina is home to roughly 8,160 Jewish people. The state saw at least 54 acts of antisemitism between Jan. 1, 2021 and Dec. 31, 2022 according to an Anti-Defamation League heat map.

In the past several months, both Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach councils have adopted resolutions condemning antisemitism.

The resolution supporting a hate crime bill is the top priority of Myrtle Beach's Human Rights Commission, which suggested the action last month.

"Hate crime laws are an important tool in helping to prevent future acts of hate and discrimination as they demonstrate that such actions will not be tolerated," Kelvin Waites, the city's chief diversity officer, said at the Jan. 31 workshop.

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

State Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Conway, declined to comment Jan. 31 when asked by The State about support for a hate crimes bill. His judiciary committee voted 13-11 last year to send a hate crime bill to the full Senate for a vote.

In December, the Human Rights Campaign ranked Myrtle Beach as South Carolina's third-best city for equality initiatives, scoring 59. Columbia and Charleston were ahead at 77 and 71 respectively.

According to the campaign's report, Myrtle Beach received points for its public stances on LGBTQ equality and support of LGTBQ inclusive policies and non-discrimination policies with contractors, among other areas.

Scott Slatton, director of advocacy for the 271-member Municipal Association of South Carolina, said enacting a hate crimes bill emerged as one of its top legislative priorities based on client input.

"Cities are in the economic development business and things that are impediments to local economic development, we want to help them overcome," he said. "This certainly should be eliminated as an obstacle."


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