Democrats nowhere to be seen as McKoon’s ‘religious freedom’ bill moves forward

Consider Sen. Josh McKoon’s SB 129, the so-called “religious freedom” bill, back on track. The bill just passed unanimously in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where curiously no Democrats were present to vote on it.

Even more curious? Sen. Vincent Fort, who planned to be a “no” vote, was in the bathroom when the vote went down.

It’s a definite turnaround from last week for McKoon. During a Feb. 19 Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, his fellow Republican, Sen. Bill Cowsert, attempted to introduce an amendment that would keep the bill from causing discrimination. McKoon ruled that Cowsert didn’t introduce the amendment within 24 hours of the meeting, which Cowsert didn’t take kindly to.

“This bill was introduced Tuesday afternoon of this week at 5 p.m. So there hadn’t been a whole of time for anybody to prepare an amendment to this, and I received notice yesterday afternoon at approximately 4 p.m. that it would be on the agenda today,” Cowsert said. “So I think it’s unreasonable to expect that anybody could have prepared an amendment any quicker than it was done and given to you this morning to consider.”

Cowsert moved to either suspend the rule about the 24-hour requirement or table the bill. A motion to suspend the rule failed but LGBT ally state Sen. Vincent Fort stepped in to move to table it and Cowsert seconded the motion.

However Cowsert appears to be on board with the latest changes to the bill.

From here the bill will move to the Senate Rules Committee and if it makes it through there, it will be up for a floor vote in the Senate. And McKoon is definitely satisfied with the day’s events.

UPDATE: Georgia Equality executive director Jeff Graham tells the GA Voice that while Sen. Cowsert inserted language into the bill that said discrimination against people is a compelling government interest, they haven’t seen the entire updated bill and don’t believe they’ll be able to support it.

“We still need to take a look at it but I’m specifically concerned about, even though he says protections against discrimination are a compelling government interest, we still have concerns that the language of this bill would nullify and gut those few legal protections that exist here in Georgia,” Graham said.

Graham also said that while what happened today wasn’t necessarily unexpected, that for the committee to meet on a Monday “was a little unusual.” Sen. McKoon is chair of the committee.