ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) -- Friday afternoon, Governor Brian Kemp signed the Georgia Hate Crimes Act into law while surrounded by lawmakers from across political parties, racial backgrounds, religions, and orientations. 

“Thing is a defining moment in the history of our great state,” said Rep. Calvin Smyre, the dean of the House of Representatives who helped push the bill forward.

“Today we stand together and Republicans and Democrats, Black and White, rural and urban, to affirm a simple but powerful motto, 'Georgia is a state too great to hate,'” Governor Kemp said.

The new law will punish people who commit crimes against people based on their race, religion, or sexual orientation.

“We witnessed a horrific hate-filled act of violence,” Kemp said about Ahmaud Arbery’s killing. “We saw injustice with our own eyes,” he added.

Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, was lead sponsor of the bill.

“The inability to call particularly heinous crimes appropriately is a loss to all Georgians,” Efstration said Friday before a crowd of guests at the State Capitol. “Specific offenses may now be classified properly. Offenses that are based on bigotry, racism, and hate can be called that under the law.”

Lawmakers said the tragic killing of Ahmaud Arbery renewed the fight to prioritize the law this session.

“I am one who has seen a lot of legislation in my 46 years,” Smyre said. “Ahmaud Arbery’s death will not be in vain as a result an example of what we are doing.”

In the background of the signing, protesters held up signs asking Kemp to veto HB838, which passed this week adding protections for law enforcement officers and first responders -- after a similar item was removed the Hate Crimes bill.

House Speaker David Ralston spoke about the Arbery killing and the need for the law.

“It is justice that is needed when it comes to horrific moments like the barbaric slaying of Ahmaud Arbery,” Ralston said. “Nothing we can say will alleviate the suffering of his mother, but we can send a message. Georgia is better than what we saw on that awful, sickening, disgusting video. We in Georgia are better than that,” Ralston added.

Some democrats admitted they feared just a few days ago that the bill would not go through. Smyre said Ralston gave him the go ahead to talk to Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan about HB426 to have the effort moved forward under the previously established bill. It passed with large bipartisan support.

Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, told CBS46 the law will not end hate crimes, only changed hearts will do that, but it will begin to adequately punish perpetuates of hate and racism.

Georgia is the 47th state to pass hate crimes legislation.

Copyright 2020 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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