A white supremacist targeted Black worshippers at Mother Emanuel in 2015, killing nine people | File photo by Jonathan Boncek

South Carolina is one step closer to having a hate crime law after House members passed the legislation on Wednesday.

By a count of 79-29, the bill passed with little debate around 3 p.m. No Charleston-area reps voted against the bill, though Rep. Lin Bennett, a Republican from West Ashley, did not vote. Democratic Rep. Krystle Matthews was noted absent, according to the tally.

South Carolina is one of three states that does not differentiate during prosecution between crimes motivated by hate or bias. For years, activists and equal-rights advocates pushed the bill, but even after the 2015 Emanuel A.M.E Church killings by a white supremacist, with a long history of racism in the state, the proposal never gained traction. Only since nearby Georgia passed a similar law last year did the bill make progress in South Carolina.

The bill, filed by S.C. Rep. Wendell Gilliard, is named in honor of former S.C. Sen. Clementa Pinckney, the minister of Mother Emanuel in Charleston who was killed during the church shooting.

The bill, as passed, increases penalties for people convicted of crimes motivated by the victim’s race, color, religion, sex, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, or physical or mental disability.

Members in white did not cast votes. Some may be absent, others may have chosen not to vote. | Source: scstatehouse.gov

At one point while the bill was in committee, protections for LGBTQ people were stripped from the proposal, but they were later added back.

The bill is modeled after the Georgia legislation, but does not include reporting requirements that make up a large portion of that proposal.

The House bill now heads to the Senate, where it is eligible to be considered before the 2021-half of the two-year legislative session ends.

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