A handful of anti-gay Georgia lawmakers, on the last day of the legislative session, are taking a parting shot at businesses and industries objecting to an anti-gay "religious freedom" bill.
With just a handful of hours until the session is gaveled to an end, lawmakers hijacked House Bill 904 – legislation the Department of Labor needs – to target businesses that have called on Gov. Nathan Deal to veto House Bill 757, an anti-gay "religious freedom" bill that lawmakers pushed through on March 16. Objections have come from leading businesses, tourism officials, the NFL and NCAA and much of Hollywood.
But, the House and Senate used parliamentary maneuvering to send the bill to a “conference committee,” made up of three negotiators from the House and three from the Senate. Within hours they had all signed off on a new version that includes the original language from HB 904 and adds a measure that deals with private companies’ anti-discrimination policies.
“It is the intent of the General Assembly to protect consumers, legitimate business enterprises, and other members of the public that rely on such statements, pledges and policies,” the new language says.
It makes it an “unfair or deceptive practice” for a company to violate its own non-discrimination policy or statement and allows employees to sue if they believe those policies were broken.
The conference committee contained six members – three from the House and three form the Senate. Among them are the most anti-gay lawmakers at the State Capitol – Rep. Barry Fleming and Sens. Josh McKoon (photo) and Greg Kirk. The other members, according to Georgia Pol, were Reps. Brian Strickland and Trey Kelley and Sen. P.K. Martin.
McKoon has been the cheerleader of "religious freedom" legislation for the last three legislative sessions. Kirk's anti-gay First Amendment Defense Act was worked into the legislation that passed last week and Fleming has been an obstructionist for LGBT protections being added to any legislation over the last two years.
The legislative trickery behind the maneuvering helped bury the new pieces inside the conference committee report, and likely helped its chances of passing late Thursday, according to Georgia Pol.
A Department of Labor bill, House Bill 904, has been modified by a conference committee to include a new section that allows someone who believes that they have been discriminated against by a private employer because that employer failed to follow corporate anti discrimination policy to file a class action lawsuit against that company.
The new provisions are tucked into the first three sections of the conference committee report. The remaining seven sections are the original contents of the bill. That section allows the Department of Labor to work with the Department of Revenue to investigate reports of fraud and abuse of the Employment Trust Fund.
The House and Senate still need to approve the report, followed by the governor’s signature. Yet, because the original bill is considered to be a must pass measure, approval is likely.
The effort is aimed at the growing list of companies that have objected to House Bill 757, which allows faith-based organizations to discriminate against LGBT people and others. It also threatens LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination protections in nearly 60 jurisdictions across Georgia.
McKoon's motivation appears to come from his back-and-forth with Salesforce, whose CEO Marc Benioff has objected to the legislation and threatened to pull business from the state if Deal doesn't veto it. McKoon has criticized the company for objecting to the bill while also conducting business in countries that criminalize homosexuality.
And Kirk in recent days has brushed off opponents of House Bill 757 by criticizing businesses opposing the legislation while operating in countries “that chop off the heads of homosexuals.”
McKoon took aim at the companies in comments to the AJC:
“In essence, it is an amendment to the Georgia Fair Business Practice Act,” McKoon said. “And what we are saying is, if you hold yourself out as a company with a policy that is beyond the discrimination policies that are protected by federal and state law…and you do not follow your own policy, then you can be liable to a lawsuit from either an employee who’s aggrieved by a violation of your policy or a consumer who’s damaged.”
An example, McKoon said, was if “somebody decides they’re going to purchase a product or a service because of the company’s reputation for inclusiveness and tolerance and then they find out they’ve essentially been defrauded because the company is not following that policy.” That person, he said, could sue the company for false advertising.
Deal, who visited the Senate and House chambers late Thursday, said little about the surprise legislation.
LGBT activists, progressive lawmakers and even conservative AJC columnist Kyle Wingfield weren't amused by the last-minute legislative shot.
This HB 904 is a bad idea. I get that they're mad, but it's a bad idea. #gapol— Kyle Wingfield AJC (@kwingfieldajc) March 25, 2016
Ok, with at all of that I can say for sure: This new bill is terrible and its authors are just spiteful. #gapol— Robbie Medwed (@rjmedwed) March 25, 2016
UPDATE | Less than two hours later, the non-discrimination language was stripped from the bill.
Just got the newest version of HB 904, which earlier included the "nondiscrimination" language. That wording is completely now gone. #gapol.— Michell Eloy (@michellreloy) March 25, 2016