The special House subcommittee that met for a hearing Tuesday that ended without a vote reconvened Wednesday with bad news for opponents of state Sen. Josh McKoon's (R-Columbus) so-called “religious freedom” bill—SB 129 passed out of that committee and will now head for a hearing Thursday before the full House Judiciary Committee, bringing it one step closer to a vote on the House floor.
Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) and Rep. Stacey Evans (D-Smyrna) proposed multiple amendments to the bill that would have added protections for the LGBT community, but each of them were voted down.
“It is so clear from the testimony that was provided yesterday and the ongoing conversations of supporters of SB 129 and the complete rejection of every amendments to keep LGBT discrimination from happening that this bill is meant to provide a vehicle and a means to discriminate against LGBT Georgians,” Georgia Equality executive director Jeff Graham said Wednesday evening. “I applaud the efforts of Mary Margaret Oliver and Stacey Evans to try and ensure that the bill would not be used to discriminate, and I'm incredibly disappointed in Rep. Beth Beskin, who time and time again voted to support discrimination against the LGBT community.”
Beskin, an Atlanta Republican, is a co-sponsor of Rep. Karla Drenner's Fair Employment Practice Act but voted in favor of McKoon's bill.
And not only were amendments not added that would have guarded against LGBT discrimination, but language referencing discrimination was stripped out of the legislative findings section of the bill. LGBT activists and scholars had criticized the placement of such language, saying it lacked teeth and should be in the statutory section of the bill, but after Wednesday's proceedings the language is gone completely.
“The bill that passed in the subcommittee today is a worse bill than what had passed out of the state Senate,” says constitutional scholar Anthony Michael Kreis. “And that troubles me because even though I had certainly believed that the legislative findings section was not completely helpful and was inadequate, I also welcomed the move in that direction so it was a huge step back to take that out of the bill.”
Kreis says he will be working on a new amendment Wednesday evening that he can present to the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday that uses the Texas and Missouri RFRAs as a foundation.
Dubose Porter, chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, issued a statement following the hearing, saying, “We owe so much to the Democratic legislators who worked incessantly to defeat this terrible legislation. It is so unfortunate that people of good will have to work this hard to defend fundamental freedoms and civil rights—and work this hard to combat hateful attempts to validate state-sanctioned discrimination. Our state must live up to its founding principles set out in our state constitution to 'insure justice to all.’ We cannot and will not accept a state government which creates any group of second-class citizens.”