The Georgia lawmaker behind an anti-gay “religious freedom” bill pledged to resurrect the legislation a day after his stunning defeat at the hands of three fellow Republicans.
A disappointed state Sen. Josh McKoon (photo) took to the Senate floor on Friday morning to thank supporters and promise to bring back his controversial bill and “prevail in this debate.”
“While obviously, it is disappointing when you hit a roadblock, those of us who are fighting for the religious freedom and the religious liberty of 10 million Georgians, we are undeterred. We are not going to stop,” McKoon said.
“We are going to keep working and at the end of the day, the truth of what Senate Bill 129 is going to do, is going to prevail. We are going to prevail in this debate. It may be this year, it may be next year but we are going to get there,” he added.
On Thursday, three Republicans joined six Democrats in narrowly approving an amendment to McKoon's bill that added protections for LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances in place in Atlanta and nearly 60 other municipalities across the state. During three days of hearings this week, McKoon, his Republican supporters and faith-based advocates made it clear they wanted the bill to gut those ordinances and open the door to anti-gay discrimination.
When the amendment from gay-friendly Republican state Rep. Mike Jacobs passed – similar to ones defeated on Wednesday – it shocked both sides of the debate. State Rep Barry Fleming, a staunch supporter of the legislation, moved to table the bill. His motion quickly passed.
Jacobs and fellow Republican state Reps. Beth Beskin and Jay Powell voted for the amendment, along with Democratic state Reps. Roger Bruce, Stacey Evans, LaDawn Jones, Ronnie Mabra, Mary Magaret Oliver and Pam Stephens.
The bill faces a tough road to resurrection, but LGBT activists warned that although McKoon's legislation suffered a near fatal blow on Thursday, it could return in the closing days of the legislative session.
Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, warned LGBT opponents of the bill to keep up the pressure on their state elected officials so McKoon's bill remains bottled up. Jacobs said on Thursday that constituents in his district overwhelmingly opposed the bill, a sign that Graham said shows that lobbying elected officials works.
“The testimony from supporters in the last three days makes it clear that the intent of the bill is to discriminate. We can not afford that to happen here in Georgia and we can not afford people to let up the pressure on the House and Senate,” Graham said. “If folks are not watching it very closely and if people are not continuing to put pressure on their representatives and senators, that's where it could come back very quickly.”
The process to resurrect McKoon's bill from the House Judiciary Committee is complex.
For now. Three days remain in the 2015 legislative session, and while the bill faces steep odds of recovering this year, it is possible. It would require Willard calling another committee meeting, a successful motion to remove the bill from the table, a vote to again amend the bill to make it palatable to Fleming and others, votes to fend off other amendments, and then a vote on the bill itself — just to make it out of committee.
There are at least four more steps after that before it could reach Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk. The bill is, as of now, crippled but not dead.
Graham said that means the bill still clings to life, however precariously.
“It sounds like there are a lot of steps in that process, but in the final few days of the legislative season, that's a process that could take only a few hours,” Graham said.
And McKoon has shown that he's not above political shenanigans to move his bill through the legislative process. He quietly put it on the agenda of the Senate Judiciary Committee after it was tabled days earlier and waited for a Democrat to step outside for a bathroom break before holding a vote.
There’s another less arduous path that can resurrect some proposals. Battle-hardened lawmakers typically have a running list of other pieces of legislation they could potentially tack their bills on if they run into problems. Sometimes that means amending an otherwise innocuous proposal, other times it means forcing the language upon a bill that also happens to be a legislative leader’s top priority.
With the latter in mind, keep an eye on HB 59, which deals with the obtuse topic of sovereign immunity. The prime author is Wendell Willard, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee that tabled SB 129 on Thursday. It remains in the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, author of SB 129.
Did we mention that revenge sometimes get personal at the Capitol?
On Friday, McKoon smugly pointed to Indiana where a day earlier, Gov. Mike Pence signed a “religious freedom” bill into law in a ceremony closed to the press and public.
“The state of Indiana is still standing today, things are still running normally, they are still doing business there and the simple common sense protections of individual religious freedom have now been extended to every citizen of that state,” McKoon said.
But the Georgia lawmaker didn't mention that the Indiana measure, like his in Georgia, is mired in controversy. Opponents say it will open the door to anti-gay discrimination, the NCAA expressed concerns about the legislation, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff announced that he's pulling business out of Indiana, and convention planners threatened to take their business elsewhere.
UPDATE | On Friday afternoon, lawmakers announced that the House Judiciary Committee would meet on Monday.
House Judiciary will meet at 10 a.m. Monday. Likely topic: SB 129, RFRA bill. #gapol
— Aaron Gould Sheinin (@asheinin) March 27, 2015
[Image and video via Senate Press Office video feed]