COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Nearly 100 businesses in South Carolina announced Monday they want the state to join 47 other states across the U.S. and pass a hate crime law.
The proposal to allow harsher penalties for killings, assaults, stalking, vandalism and other crimes motivated by hatred for someone’s race, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or disability has not come up for a hearing six weeks into the General Assembly’s session.
So the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce got leaders of some of the state’s largest employers —- Walmart, IBM, UPS, Duke Energy, pharmaceutical maker Nephron — to talk to reporters on a virtual call.
And when businesses speak, South Carolina lawmakers often listen. Pressure from industry leaders finally convinced lawmakers to raise the gas tax in 2017 as Michelin suggested it could no longer expand its tire plans in the state because the roads were so bad and other major factories joined in.
“It took the business community to finally get that bill passed. It was a 10-year effort,” said state Chamber of Commerce interim CEO Swati Patel, who as former Gov. Nikki Haley’s chief of staff felt a lot of that pressure.
In 2000, a state that attracted the first BMW plant in America was finding foreign companies embarrassed to be linked to a state that flew the Confederate flag on the Capitol dome. Lawmakers relented to years of pressure and moved the rebel banner to the Statehouse lawn for the next 15 years.
The hate crimes bill is a similar effort. South Carolina, Arkansas and Wyoming are the only three states without enhanced punishments and businesses want to know why that is not important to South Carolina leaders.
“We have to demonstrate to the world that hate will not be tolerated here,” said Tim Arnold, chairman of the state Chamber’s Board of Directors and president and CEO of Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company.
Businesses were also vital in getting the most recent hate crimes bill passed in Georgia last June after the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man pursued and fatally shot while running near Brunswick, Georgia.
Arkansas Republican governor and other political and business leaders have made a public push to pass a hate crimes law there, but opposition gathered before the legislative session started.
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