Georgia State Sen. Josh McKoon (R) defends his “religious freedom” bill to a House committee. CREDIT: AP Photo/David Goldman
Georgia lawmakers have been quickly advancing their own version of a “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA), a bill similar to the pro-discrimination legislation that just became law in Indiana. SB 129 has already passed the Georgia Senate — having advanced through votes while Democrats were in the bathroom — but it came to a screeching halt in a House committee on Thursday.
As in Indiana, proponents of Georgia’s bill have tried to argue that it has nothing to do with discrimination. Rep. Mike Jacobs, an LGBT-friendly Republican, decided to test this theory by introducing an amendment that would not allow claims of religious liberty to be used to circumvent state and local nondiscrimination protections. Supporters of the bill, like Rep. Barry Fleming (R), countered that the amendment “will gut the bill.” Nevertheless, the House Judiciary Committee approved the amendment with a 9-8 vote, three Republicans joining the Democrats in supporting it.
Fleming moved to table the amended bill, a motion that passed with 16 votes, making it doubtful the bill will proceed before the legislative session ends. With an exception for nondiscrimination protections, the “religious liberty” bill is likely dead.
Before the vote, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Josh McKoon (R), joined the hearing to similarly argue against making an exception for nondiscrimination protections. He claimed that the bill’s religious liberty protections would no longer be “uniform” across the state, adding, “That amendment would completely undercut the purpose of the bill.” Rep. Roger Bruce (D) pressed McKoon: “That tells me that the purpose of the bill is to discriminate.” Without further explanation, he countered, “It couldn’t be further from the truth, no sir.”
Watch the exchange (via Project Q Atlanta):
Nearly a dozen other RFRA bills, in addition to other more blatantly anti-LGBT bills, are still pending in state legislatures across the country. Backlash continues to grow against Indiana’s bill, including concern from the NCAA and a notice from Yelp that it will not expand its business in any state that passes a law like Indiana’s.