COLUMBIA, S.C. — Legislators and representatives from civil rights groups in South Carolina announced at a press conference this afternoon the introduction of a hate crimes bill that would protect victims on the basis, among others, of race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The bill is sponsored by state Reps. John King (D-Rock Hill) and James Smith, Jr. (D-Richland) and supported by the state’s NAACP and LGBT education and advocacy group South Carolina Equality. The state currently has no statute on hate crimes or bias-motivated violence.

“The South Carolina General Assembly has a brilliant opportunity to make a clear and unequivocal statement that people who live in and visit our beautiful state are as protected as they are in 45 other states and the District of Columbia,” Christine Johnson, South Carolina Equality executive director, said in a release. “Rejection of a statewide hate crimes bill, when other similarly conservative states have passed such legislation, would do nothing more than speak an endorsement of bias and hate-based crimes.”

The latest push for a hate crimes bill follows two recent incidents allegedly motivated by anti-gay prejudice. In April, a 19-year-old gay man was attacked by several men at a Rock Hill gas station (see “Rock Hill teen assaulted again”). In May, a 22-year-old gay man in Spartanburg said he’d been attacked because of his sexual orientation. Five men were later arrested in connection to the Rock Hill incident; none are facing federal hate crime charges.

Federal hate crimes language is now inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity, but advocates say the incidents in Rock Hill and Spartanburg are prime examples of crimes that may not qualify under federal law and could benefit from added protection in state statute. In states without hate crimes laws, or in those without LGBT-inclusive laws, federal investigators are usually asked or volunteer to collect facts or investigate.

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.