The Georgia General Assembly starts its annual 40-day session on Jan. 9. A bill to ban anti-LGBT job discrimination against state employees is pending, but a host of governmental issues are expected to take up most of the legislature’s time, leaving lawmakers little for social issues.
The state is expected to address a thorny multi-state water agreement, potential changes to Atlanta’s mass transit system, tax reform, potential legal ramifications to last year’s immigration law, and education issues, among other topics.
Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale) enters this session the senior lawmaker in the recently formed GLBT Caucus, which now includes openly gay Reps. Simone Bell and Rashad Taylor, both Atlanta Democrats. Drenner said she’s uncertain what 2012 will bring to Georgia.
“It’s an election year so you can guarantee it will be very contentious, transportation is an issue that’s on everyone’s mind, and tax reform is a big issue that could fracture people,” Drenner said.
The state’s largest LGBT political organization, Georgia Equality, is again coordinating with a number of groups with similar goals to move forward a handful of issues this year. Executive Director Jeff Graham said the organization has two priorities for the 2012 session: extend nondiscrimination protection to gay and transgender state employees and increase funding for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program.
Last year, Drenner drafted House Bill 630, which included protection for gay and transgender state employees, and Georgia Equality is in the process of gauging support. The bill was introduced with 70 sponsors and cosponsors, including 12 Republicans and one Independent. It would cover Georgia’s 174,000 state employees.
“I’m always hoping it will pass. I’ll remain optimistic about that. Basically my plan will be have a hearing early on to move the bill as early and as quickly as we possibly can,” Drenner said. “I think having sexual orientation and gender identity included in a title seven provision is something every state should do, not just the state of Georgia.”
Georgia Equality will host a town hall meeting on Jan. 10 to discuss the need for the bill and the recent court case in which Vandy Beth Glenn successfully sued the state for firing her for being transgender.
A number of AIDS organizations have been pushing for an increase in state funding for ADAP, a combined state and federal program that helps to provide medication for people with HIV who have limited or no income. Currently 1,455 Georgians are wait-listed for the program.
“We did have some additional federal money that came in this fall,” Graham said. “However without additional resources the number on the waiting list will continue to grow.”
Legislation with anti-gay implications isn’t on the radar yet.
“I haven’t heard of anything… and it would never be framed as an attack on the LGBT community, it would just be framed as a pro-family initiative,” Drenner said.
Georgia Equality will not push for a state hate crimes bill this year.
“There still is a real need for a state-level hate crimes bill,” Graham said. “What we’ve seen is there are so many gaps in the federal hate crimes law that without a state law to fill in the gaps, it’s very hard for the FBI to investigate and the federal prosecutors to bring charges.”
But after proposed hate crimes legislation failed to garner much support or energy in recent years, Georgia Equality will focus its limited resources on a targeted agenda.
“Unfortunately the reality is that our capacity is limited as an organization and we could take on a whole lot of issues and maybe not make any progress, or we could focus in on one or two where we really have a chance to make something happen,” Graham said.
Top photo: State Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale) hopes to hold a hearing early in the legislative session on her bill to ban anti-LGBT job discrimination against state employees. (File photo)