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Backers: Changes to hate crimes bill endangers passage

The hate crimes bill originally was fairly simple. Now, it may have language in it that could be a deal breaker for many of its original supporters.

ATLANTA — The fortunes for a hate crimes bill changed over the weekend as Senators added police officers to the class that would get protection.  

The hate crimes bill originally was fairly simple. Now, it may have language in it that could be a deal breaker for many of its original supporters.

"Are you telling me you don’t think our first responders should be protected from attacks?” demanded state Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), during a late senate judiciary meeting Friday.

Cowsert was trying to turn the table on questions from Sen. Harold Jones II (D-Augusta), who challenged whether the new language was appropriate. 

The hate crimes bill originally included a list of protected categories ranging from race and religion to sexual orientation and disability. Last week members of the senate expanded that list, from age and culture to homelessness and first amendment activities.

RELATED: Georgia senators say hate crimes law should protect police

By adding police and first responders – the bill’s original backers say Republicans are undermining the bill’s intent and viability.

"This is not a police protection bill. This is a human rights bill. And we can leave it as such. We can protect the police in some other aspect. Right now this is a human rights issue. So lets deal with it as such," said state Rep. 

James Beverly (D-Macon), who said police have numerous other laws on the books that specifically protect them and make separate crimes of attacks on law enforcement officers,

With the legislature due to adjourn for the year Friday, there are four days left for lawmakers to wrangle their differences – on a bill that became a high priority to both parties just a few days ago.

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