A Georgia House subcommittee voted down protections for LGBT people, the disabled, veterans and women during a brief hearing on Monday.
The measure came as an amendment to House Bill 849 from state Rep. Rich Golick, a Cobb Republican (photo). His bill would prohibit discrimination in public accommodations such as hotels and restaurants – a first for Georgia – and provide legal remedies on the state, rather than federal, level for people who are discriminated against.
The bill would protect people from discrimination based on their race, color religion and national origin – though not sexual orientation and gender identity. Golick has expressed interest in expanding the list of protected categories in the legislation.
During a hearing on Monday before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, Golick said the intent of the bill is to provide "fairly expedited" local remedies for people who are discriminated against instead of what can often be a lengthy federal process for discrimination complaints.
"I've gotten the question about what's the real problem here and I don't think there is a tremendous problem at all. The issue here is one of remedy," Golick told the committee. "In terms of policy, it seems like the right thing to do."
Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, told the committee that although the measure is welcomed, it leaves out LGBT people, women, veterans and the elderly. Graham also noted that nearly 60 jurisdictions across Georgia have in place non-discrimination ordinances that offer some levels of protection to LGBT people.
"Preserving the rights of all Georgians, including people of faith and LGBT individuals, is the conversation we've been waiting to have," Graham said. "Unfortunately, the current language still leaves many Georgians vulnerable to discrimination."
Golick's bill has bipartisan support, including gay-friendly Democrats Reps. Calvin Smyre and Stacey Abrams, who are co-sponsors. Rep. Karla Drenner, the longest-serving openly gay lawmaker in the state, is also a co-sponsor.
'We want to do the right thing here'
Rep. Taylor Bennett (second photo), a Democrat backed by LGBT groups who recently took office, offered an amendment to broaden the bill to include gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and veteran status.
"All tax paying Georgians deserve to reap the fruits of their labor and this group of protected individuals in this amendment is more inclusive than what is currently laid out in the current legislation," Bennett said.
Democratic Reps. Stacey Evans and Roger Bruce argued that the amendment fills the gaps of Golick's proposal. Bruce, who is black, referenced the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that Golick said he modeled his legislation after.
"There are new issues that have come up and this amendment addresses those issues. I don't think we ought to wait another 60 years to fix it," Bruce said.
Evans said the more inclusive list of protected categories in the amendment "is a good thing."
"Certainly we are attempting a couple of additional categories here in Georgia. We want to do the right thing here in Georgia on time and extend some protections to the LGBT community and our veterans," Evans said.
But Republicans on the subcommittee balked at the amendment, including Rep. Johnnie Caldwell, who chairs the committee, and Rep. Tom Weldon, who questioned Bennett on the definition of "gender identity."
With a 6-4 vote, the amendment failed. Rep. Barry Fleming, a Harlem Republican, and at least one other lawmaker who does not sit on the full House Judiciary Committee attended the subcommittee hearing and voted against the amendment, as did Caldwell. Fleming has supported a controversial "religious freedom" measure from state Sen. Josh McKoon and fought efforts to add LGBT protections to it. The vote by Fleming produced a polite rebuke from Evans and Bruce (watch below).
Golick's bill then passed the subcommittee and moves to the House Judiciary Committee. McKoon's bill also remains before that committee, along with the Pastor Protection Act from state Rep. Kevin Tanner. That bill passed a subcommittee last week – without an amendment from Evans to limit its scope.
UPDATE | The depth to the trickery that Republicans played on Monday to halt the LGBT-inclusive amendment goes deeper than it first appeared. Bennett's amendment would have passed, yet Republicans stacked the subcommittee with non-members to kill it, according to the AJC.
The 6-4 vote only occurred with outside help. Two of those “no” votes came from state Reps. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, and Joe Wilkinson, R-Dunwoody, who are members of the Judiciary Committee, but not this particular subcommittee. The final vote against the amendment came from House Majority Whip Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City.
Without those votes, the amendment would have passed 4-3.
House rules allow members of committees to vote on any subcommittee. Those rules also allow the speaker pro tem, majority leader and majority whip to vote on any committee or subcommittee. It only happens on rare occasions and typically only when House leadership is concerned a vote might not go the way it wishes.