Bills To Watch 2016

The 2016 Georgia General Assembly has already proven to be the most anti-LGBT since 2004.

For the exact language of the bill introduced –  click the bill number for link.

Georgia Religious Exemption Bills to-date that we are concerned with –

SB 129 – Georgia RFRA Sen. McKoon (R – Columbus)

Broad language that would allow individuals and businesses to use religious views to ignore or avoid state and local laws.  Legal experts agree that this could be used as an excuse to discriminate and passage of the law may provide such an incentive, especially as it relates to the LGBT community.  Supporters tabled the bill last year when an amendment was added that stated explicitly that “Compelling government interest includes but is not limited to: protecting the welfare of a child from abuse and neglect as provided for by state law, and protecting individuals against discrimination on any grounds prohibited by federal, state and local laws.”

SB 284 – First Amendment Defense Act of GeorgiaSen. Kirk (R-  Americus)

Would allow people or businesses who believe that “marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman or that sexual relations are properly reserved  to such marriage”  to claim an exemption from having to provide services to couples.  Would specifically allow organizations to receive government grants and contracts while discriminating against same-sex and unmarried couples.

SR 388 – Georgia State Constitutional Amendment to Fund Religious Organizations Sen. Heath (R- Bremen)

Would put up for public vote a change to the state constitution to allow for direct funding to religious organizations.

HB 756 – “Discrimination Protection Act” Rep. Tanner (R – Dawsonville)

Similar to SB 284, states explicitly that no business or individual  “shall be required to sell goods or services directly to a religious organization or for a religious or matrimonial ceremony in violation of such a seller’s right to free exercise of religion”  Could be used to withhold services from same-sex or couples whose religion does not match that of the seller.  Could be interpreted to also allow people to refuse to do business with various religious organizations, churches, synagogues, mosques, etc…

HB 757 – Pastor Protection Act Rep. Tanner (R-Dawsonville)

Would affirm constitutional guarantees that no member of the clergy would have to preside over a religious marriage ceremony that they do not want to participate in.  Additional language has been added to protect companies that do not want to open on Saturdays or Sundays and to allow certain religious organizations to refuse to “rent, lease or otherwise grant permission for property to be used by another person for purposes which are objectionable to such religious organization.”

HB 816 – Student Religious Freedom Act Rep. Mitchell (D – Stone Mountain)

Reiterates into state law the legal precedent that student led prayer is acceptable.  Not as troubling as the broader RFRA or other religious exemption laws, but could be amended to broaden the language.

HB 837 – RFRARep. Setzler (R – Acworth)

House alternative to SB 129 that simply states federal RFRA will become state law. Introduced 1/25, fuller legal analysis is pending.  Troubling because language of SB 129 (or any other bill) could be used as substitute language in floor vote.  Also note the growing problems and concerns with how federal RFRA has been used and interpreted in recent years.

HB 218 – Preventing Government Overreach of Religious Expression Rep. Teasley (R – Marietta)

This is the House version of the Senate RFRA that was introduced in 2015. While the bill’s sponsor has said he will not move his bill, it is still possible for the bill to come up in committee and we are continuing to monitor it.

Nondiscrimination Bills that are positive steps – 

HB 849 – Georgia Civil Rights in Public Accommodations Act – Rep. Golick (R- Smyrna)

First attempt to pass public accommodations law in Georgia by mirroring Title II of the 1964 Federal Civil Rights Act.  Does not include sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

Georgia Equality issued the following statement on this bill:

“We’ve been working for several years now to build support for non-discrimination protections that extend to all Georgians, including those who are gay and transgender. Over the past year in particular, the broad support for that type of legislation has become increasingly clear – among conservatives, businesses, people of faith and many others.

“Rep. Golick has explicitly said that he would like to expand the classes covered by his current bill, so that the protections it offers are as inclusive as possible. This is a step in the right direction. We look forward to having discussions with Rep. Golick and other lawmakers, on both sides of the aisle, about how we can craft legislation that protects all Georgians from discrimination.”

HB 323 – Fair Employment Practices Act – Rep. Drenner (D-Avondale Estates)

Would protect state employees from discrimination in hiring, firing or promotions due to sexual orientation and gender identity.  Has strong bi-partisan support with 77 co-sponsors, including 17 Republicans.