Religious freedom isn’t the only issue affecting the LGBT community during this year’s legislative session. Employment discrimination, bullying, hate crimes and HIV/AIDS are just some of the subjects covered in several bills under consideration.
Drenner reintroduces bill banning discrimination against LGBT state employees
Lesbian State Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates) hopes the third time’s the charm with the reintroduction of her Fair Employment Practices Act, which would prohibit discrimination against state employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Fifty-eight cities and counties in Georgia already have similar protections in place, and HB 323 would expand that coverage statewide.
HB 323 has 77 co-sponsors, including one independent and 17 Republicans, including the powerful Republican co-sponsor Rep. Wendell Willard of Sandy Springs, who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
When Drenner introduced the bills in 2012 and 2013, theyw granted a hearing but not a vote. Regardless, she hasn’t changed the wording of the bill this year, but she says there are other factors in her favor this time around.
“There may be a couple things different this time and that is, first, the timing is better,” she says. “Second, the overall culture of the General Assembly feels a little bit different. There are more co-sponsors and Republican support. It almost seems like the world is finally catching up to the bill.”
Drenner says the bill does not include protections for private employees. Experts believe if it did, it would have little to no chance of passing in the Republican-controlled legislature. But it does affect state colleges and universities.
“I would offer that [a bill covering private employment discrimination] would be characterized as government overreach,” she says. “I would think that the 200-plus corporations that already have these policies in place set precedent, and that independent companies can have their own policies.”
HB 323 has been assigned to Willard’s House Judiciary Committee, so Drenner will be busy lobbying members of the committee in advance of a yet-to-be scheduled hearing.
Bell’s bill would keep discriminatory schools from receiving scholarship money
Lesbian State Rep. Simone Bell (D-Atlanta) has introduced a bill that would ensure that schools receiving funding from student scholarship organizations do not discriminate based on race, religion, sex, national origin, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Bell was moved to file HB 142 after seeing a report released by the Southern Education Foundation that revealed at least 115 Georgia private schools that received funds from student scholarship organizations had explicit anti-gay policies or belonged to private school associations that promote anti-gay policies, says Carolyn Monden, finance director of the Georgia House Democratic Caucus, who spoke on Bell’s behalf.
“Educational opportunities should be available to all Georgia students, and this legislation ensures that no child is turned away from a school based on discriminatory considerations,” Monden says.
Under pressure from Deal, lawmaker removes AIDS from medical marijuana bill
AIDS will no longer be a covered diagnosis under state Rep. Allen Peake’s (R-Macon) medical marijuana bill. Peake’s HB 1 was originally intended to facilitate treatment of children with certain seizure disorders, but a more recent version included an expanded list of diagnoses that included AIDS.
However, the Prosecuting Attorneys Council and the Georgia Sheriffs Association, and more importantly Gov. Nathan Deal, came out strongly against such a bill. A legislative aide of Peake’s confirmed to the GA Voice that AIDS has been removed from the bill.
“HB 1 currently includes eight diagnoses. They are cancer, ALS, seizures, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s Disease, mitochondrial disease, fibromyalgia, and Parkinson’s Disease,” says Peake aide Grant Thomas.
“Gov. Deal has endorsed the bill and currently supports including these eight diagnoses in HB 1. However, law enforcement (the Prosecuting Attorneys Council and Georgia Sheriffs Association) only supports legalizing cannabis oil for children with seizure disorders. Unfortunately, AIDS is not currently included as a diagnosis in HB 1.”
Waites proposes anti-bullying, HIV testing bill
Lesbian state Rep. Keisha Waites (D-Atlanta) has proposed a bill to help curb bullying in schools.
“Right now the legislation that’s on the books doesn’t do anything to address bullying before it happens,” Waites says. “There is a current climate and a culture where this behavior has become acceptable.”
HB 40 would require that local boards of education include bullying incidents in their annual reports to the Department of Education regarding disciplinary and placement actions taken during the prior school year.
The bill would also require enumerated categories outlining why the student was bullied, including sexual orientation or gender identity.
“So if they were bullied based upon being disabled, if they were bullied based upon being morbidly obese, or if they may be LGBT, that would be required in the report,” Waites says.
HB 40 would also require sensitivity training for educators and administrators, which is a requirement in most metro Atlanta counties but not in many rural areas of the state.
Waites has also proposed a bill that would make HIV testing a standard part of a patient’s blood panel. Under HB 53, a patient visiting their doctor would have to opt out of getting tested for HIV infection instead of having to opt in, as things now stand.
“If that person is positive, that allows them to get advanced treatment, to be honest with potential sexual partners, and it can hopefully stop the spread of HIV,” Waites says.
Rep. Waites is also a co-sponsor along with Rep. Drenner on Rep. Pam Dickerson’s (D-Conyers) HB 131, which would amend the current definition of bullying to include cyberbullying.
Fort introduces hate crime bill including sexual orientation, gender identity
Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) has proposed legislation that would provide for enhanced punishment for crimes involving bias or prejudice, including such crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Georgia is one of five states without a hate crime law on the books.
The bill, SB 47, has been assigned to the Judiciary Non-Civil Committee chaired by Republican Sen. Jesse Stone. Fort was not available as of press time to comment on the bill.