Despite concerns that new Gov. Nathan Deal might support legislation that would negatively affect LGBT Georgians, no specifically gay bills — positive or negative — have been filed since the legislature convened Jan. 10.
“There has been a lot of controversy in the Senate as usual, and the immigration stuff has started off with a bang,” said state Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), who is the senior openly gay state legislator. “I don’t know how many bills they’re up to now, 15 maybe. Then of course the budget hearings, and so the shortfalls are coming to light, and the tax bills.”
Deal has released his budget, which does not include any cuts to the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, which helps low income HIV-positive individuals and those with no insurance afford their medications.
Ga. legislature silent on LGBT issues in new session
State Rep. Simone Bell (D-Atlanta), the only other openly gay member of the General Assembly, said her year has been “slow, but crazy.”
Bell said she was still in the early stages of putting together her agenda for the session. “I’m gearing up to be a voice for equality,” she said.
Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy organization, said it still early in the session but the organization will continue to lobby and watch for damaging legislation.
“None, so far,” Graham said of any anti-LGBT bills. “There have been a couple of bills introduced in the adoption section that we will always watch and monitor of course.”
One of the bills mostly closely watched is House Bill 65, a bill by Rep. Tom McCall (R-Elberton). McCall’s bill would modify a section of Georgia’s adoption code to allow adopted children and their biological children to access non-identifying medical records of the biological parent.
The bill only modifies the language of one section of the code, but Graham said Georgia Equality is “watching that bill and others very closely” for fear that they could be used as vehicles for amendments that could restrict the ability of gay people to create families.
Drenner said the adoption code is one of the sections of Georgia law neither party is anxious to change.
“There’s a reluctance to significantly open up that code section because nobody knows what could happen. It’s very dangerous territory, so we’re all aware of that,” Drenner said.
“I’m not sure [the Republican leadership] is convinced about what their membership might try to do, so I’m sure they’re reluctant as well.”
Another issue of interest that might move this year is changing the state law to allow Sunday sale of alcohol by the bottle. House Bill 69 has a number of prominent Republican committee chairmen signed on as sponsors and pundits predict this may be the year the bill passes. The bill only affects grocery stores and convenience stores, however, and not bars.
Georgia Equality has said it is focusing on a multiple-year push for hate crime legislation.
“I don’t know if we will be working on a hate crimes bill just yet. We don’t want to just drop a bill to say that we dropped a bill,” Graham said.
However, state Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) said he will continue to push for his hate crimes bill that includes protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Fort said he isn’t concerned about it becoming a “statement bill” and hopes to move it through committee hearings.
“Although making a statement and educating the public is not, as I’m concerned, a bad thing, but it’s important to keep pushing it,” Fort said. “We pushed it out of a tough judiciary committee [last session] and in a tough Senate it didn’t pass. But we have to keep pushing it.”
Top photo: State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) says he will continue to push for a hate crime bill that includes sexual orientation and gender identity, although Georgia Equality is taking a slower, multi-year approach to the issue. (Courtesy Georgia Senate)