“The strategy is actually a multi-year strategy. We worked all session long to get as many co-sponsors as we possibly could to give everyone the opportunity [to sign on],” Drenner said, noting that supporters will work through the summer to gain the additional 21 votes needed to pass the measure to the state Senate.
The House has 180 members so 91 votes are needed for a majority. The bill’s supporters are largely metro-Atlanta Democrats including Minority Leader Rep. Stacy Abrams (D-Atlanta), plus former Democrats turned Republicans Mike Jacobs (R-Atlanta) and Bubber Epps (R-Dry Branch).
But the list includes some surprising names like Culver “Rusty” Kidd (I-Milledgeville), who caucuses with the Republicans, and senior Republican lawmakers Sharon Cooper (R-East Cobb), Harry Geisinger (R-Roswell), Ellis Black (R-Valdosta) and Ben Harbin (R-Evans), who chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee.
None of the Republican co-signers GA Voice contacted would comment on the bill, but off-the-record sources said opposition is already lining up to fight HB 630 should it get a committee hearing next year. The General Assembly serves two-year terms and legislation introduced one year could pass in the next.
The bill would “promote the elimination of discrimination against all individuals in public employment because of such individuals’ race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or age thereby to promote the protection of their interest in personal dignity and freedom from humiliation.” It is currently assigned to the Judiciary Committee, where Republican Wendell Willard is chair and Mike Jacobs is vice chair.
The introduction of the state employment non-discrimination bill is a direct result of Vandy Beth Glenn winning her civil lawsuit against the state after she was fired from her job as a state legislative editor in the General Assembly because she is transgender.
Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham said the bill would cover all state workers including Georgia Highway Patrol officers and staff as well as the state university system faculty and staff. Graham said it was important to have a bill introduced and give lawmakers something to debate.
“This is really at this point in time to get the bill introduced and we can have a group of supporters with a specific bill number and a specific bill so that we aren’t just having a hypothetical discussion,” he said.
ADAP funding comes up short
The budget dominated much of the session and Georgia Equality and others focused on expanding funding for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, or ADAP. The program covers the cost for life-saving HIV drugs for those without insurance or who are underinsured.
Administered by the state of Georgia, the program is funded through a mix of federal and state money. The program’s $44.8 million budget is approximately $15 million short of what it needs to deal with increasing demand. Georgia has one of the longest waiting lists in the country and recently topped 1,300 people, a benchmark healthcare providers did not expect to reach until June.
“It is going to be at the same funding level as it was last year, so until the federal government increases funding we will continue to see the waiting list grow,” Graham said.
Georgia Equality was part of a coalition that requested a $5 million increase from the state, which did not happen this year.
“The House did re-instate $600,000 that the Senate had cut out of a previous version of the budget but we did not see the increase we were requesting,” Graham said.
Those on the waiting list are receiving medication at little to no cost to themselves because of the efforts of the drug companies. The long-term concern is that the drug companies that manufacture AIDS and HIV medication cannot afford to give away their products for free for an ever-increasing number of people. Healthcare providers would like to have a secure stream of public funding to make sure that their patients’ care is uninterrupted.
LGBT activists oppose Franklin, immigration bills
Earlier in the session East Cobb lawmaker Rep. Bobby Franklin (R-Marietta) made comments to the Marietta Daily Journal where he equated gays serving in the military to an “unrepentant drug dealer” during a denouncement of the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” earlier this year.
His comments touched off a back-and-forth between Franklin and a collection of gay activist groups who demanded an apology. Despite a sternly worded letter demanding an apology and that Franklin undergo sensitivity and diversity training, the controversial lawmaker stood by his words and has refused to apologize.
Some LGBT activists joined in trying to defeat HB 87 and SB 40, immigration bills patterned after Arizona’s strict regulations that include allowing law enforcement to ask for citizenship status of people they suspect are undocumented.
The National Gay & Lesbian Task Force joined national Latino and labor organizations in threatening to boycott Georgia if Gov. Nathan Deal signs the legislation.
The bills were still being debated in the legislature at press time Tuesday and the session was expected to end April 14.
Top photo: State Rep. Karla Drenner gathered 70 co-sponsors for a bill to ban job discrimination against LGBT state employees. The proposal is a ‘multi-year’ strategy that proponents hope will see increased attention next year. (courtesy ProjectQAtlanta.com)