Testimony for HB 630 came at the end of a more than two hour hearing that included several other bills. State Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), who is openly gay and sponsor of the bill, was the only person to testify about the bill; no opponents were heard.
One of the bills discussed was HB 397, a bill that would call for stricter punishment for those violating the state open records and meetings law. Members approved the bill and it advances to the full Judiciary Committee.
“I want to address some of concerns of the definitions of sexual orientation and gender identity. I did some research … and there has been no judicial expansion of the term to include pedophilia or bestiality or any of the other terms mentioned in the report that was provided to the committee at the last hearing,” Drenner said.
Drenner was responding to last week’s testimony by Tanya Ditty, state director for the Concerned Women for America, who stated, “What’s going to protect our children if a pedophiliac comes in and gets a teaching job, is a bus driver, is a custodian? And they could be people that just want to prey on children and they would be protected by this law.”
Ditty also said there were 23 “sexual orientations” that included includes pedophilia, transsexuality, zoophilia and necrophilia and presented a dubious report on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Cameras, video banned
Six state troopers as well were stationed in Room 406 and in the hallway of the Coverdell Building where the hearing took place, with one officer brusquely halting members of the media from taking photos and video at the request of Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs).
Wendell is chair of the House Judiciary Committee. He attended the subcommittee meeting and also happens to be a co-sponsor of HB 630.
Willard made the motion to disallow cameras during the hearing because he said video from the Feb. 21 Judiciary subcommittee was “abused” after it was posted to the internet.
While not specifically naming the video, Willard was no doubt speaking of the video of Ditty’s remarks. The video went viral and apparently Ditty was “harassed” by LGBT people not happy with her testimony. Ditty did not attend today’s hearing.
Willard said he supported everyone’s right to the First Amendment and to hold differing opinions, but did not think it fair to “abuse” that privilege by posting video of a person’s statements at a public forum onto the internet.
Rep. Roger Bruce (D-Atlanta) disagreed with Willard, saying to deny cameras in the hearing was a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
“I do request people try to respect and honor a difference of opinion, but cannot support this motion to infringe on freedom of the press,” Bruce said.
“I’m not asking the press to be removed. I’m just asking they not photograph or videotape this session,” Willard said.
The motion to bar media from photographing and videotaping the session was approved in a voice vote.
Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham said there was still hope for the bill and he urged voters to contact their state representatives to support HB 630. He also asked voters to contact Rep. Jacobs and Rep. Willard directly to ask them that the bill get a hearing before the full Judiciary Committee.
Graham was also surprised by the camera ban in the hearing today but said the testimony given last week by Ditty was filled with “dangerous inaccuracies.”
“They know that their report is full of dangerous inaccuracies about the LGBT community and for them. They are embarrassed by their own testimony. People are making their own decisions what they stand for,” he said.
After the hearing, Willard told a Fulton County Daily Report reporter that “someone had misused the right at last hearing.”
It’s just like a courtroom, Willard added, where a judge can decide if photography or video can be used.
Bruce, the lone vote against banning cameras, said he’s worked in the General Assembly for 10 years and has never seen cameras banned from a public hearing before.
“If you’re doing what you really believed in, it shouldn’t matter who hears it as far as I’m concerned,” Bruce said.
Jacobs, who chaired this subcommittee meeting and has been a legislator under the Gold Dome for eight years, also said he had never seen cameras banned from a public hearing before.
“The subcommittee serves at the pleasure of the chairman of the committee. It was his call,” Jacobs said.
“I think, personally, cameras should be permitted, particularly for members for the press. It’s a call the chairman of the committee is allowed to make,” Jacobs said.
Interestingly, video of Ditty’s testimony was posted to the Concerned Women for America website but has since been removed.
Willard didn’t take kindly to questions from the GA Voice. Here’s the transcript of an interview after the hearing:
GA Voice: Why was photography not allowed and video not allowed?
Willard: Because the right of taking photography was abused last time on this bill’s consideration.
GA Voice: How was it abused?
Willard: You let me finish.
GA Voice: Yes sir.
Willard: Who you do you represent?
GA Voice: The GA Voice newspaper.
Willard: Georgia who?
GA Voice: The GA Voice newspaper.
Willard: I understand it was through someone representing your group that this information was put on the internet.
GA Voice: Yes, why is that abuse?
Willard: I’m not going to talk to you anymore.
GA Voice: Why was that an abuse?
Willard: I find it an abuse. That’s why.
Photo: Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) at today’s Judiciary subcommittee shortly before he banned photography and video during the hearing. (by Dyana Bagby)