A bill that would protect gay state employees from discrimination stalled after a second hearing on Monday under heavy police presence and a successful effort by a Sandy Springs Republican to ban photos and video of the event.
House Bill 630 received a brief hearing before a House Judiciary subcommittee, chaired by gay-friendly Republican state Rep. Mike Jacobs, less than a week after it was tabled by another subcommittee. The bill was one of several scheduled to be discussed by Jacobs’ committee, but before the legislation was presented Jacobs announced that no vote would take place on the measure.
Instead state Rep. Karla Drenner (photo), a lesbian lawmaker and sponsor of the bill along with Jacobs, offered brief testimony supporting the legislation and swatting down accusations that opponents made about it during a hearing on Feb. 21.
“This bill is about fairness and all state employees should be treated fairly,” Drenner said. “There is no judicial expansion of the term [sexual orientation] to include pedophilia, bestiality or any of the other terms mentioned in the report provided to the committee during the last hearing.”
Lawmakers on the subcommittee did not ask any questions and Jacobs quickly ended the hearing by saying that the legislation “remains under advisement by his subcommittee and alive and well.”
Drenner was referring to testimony delivered by Tanya Ditty, state director of Concerned Women for America of Georgia, during the Feb. 21 hearing. The Cobb County educator’s three-minute rant compared gay and lesbian people to pedophiles and other criminals. She also gave lawmakers a paper that attempts to redefine sexual orientation as a “radical challenge to the core beliefs of all major religious faiths.” Ditty has a history of anti-gay attacks.
Ditty’s testimony and use of junk science, recorded and published by Project Q Atlanta and the GA Voice, went viral and was picked up by several national media organizations and LGBT blogs. Her testimony enraged LGBT activists, who shared their anger in comments across social media outlets, including Project Q’s YouTube channel. (Watch video below)
Ban on photos, video during hearing
As the hearing was about to begin on Monday, state Rep. Wendell Willard, a Sandy Springs Republican who chairs the Judiciary committee, ordered a reporter from the GA Voice to stop photographing the audience in the packed committee room. An officer from the Capitol Police, followed by a trooper from the Georgia State Patrol, then ordered a reporter from Project Q Atlanta not to record and photograph the session.
As that unfolded, Willard made a motion to ban the use of cameras during the hearing and to have anyone using them to be removed, complaining that the “privilege” had been “abused” during a subcommittee hearing on Feb. 21 when Ditty was taped. (Watch video below)
The motion passed on a voice vote, with at least Willard and Rep. Andrew Welch supporting it. Rep. Roger Bruce, an Atlanta Democrat, was the only lawmaker who voted against it.
When pressed by reporters after the hearing about his motion, Willard angrily responded and then walked away without answering any additional questions.
“I find it abusive and don’t have to answer your questions,” Willard said.
But a member of CWA’s Georgia staff, Terri Green, recorded Ditty’s testimony and posted it to YouTube. In a Feb. 21 email to supporters, Ditty thanked Green for the video and recommended to supporters that they watch it. The CWA video has since been removed from YouTube by the person who posted it.
Jacobs, serving in his eighth year as a state lawmaker, said it was the “first time” he’d ever seen such a ban on photography and video take place at the Gold Dome.
“The subcommittee serves at the pleasure of the chairman of the committee; it was his call,” Jacobs said of Willard’s motion. “Personally, I think cameras should be permitted particularly for members of the press in committee hearings. But again it is a call that the chairman of the committee is entitled to make.”
Bruce said it’s the first time in his 10 years as a state lawmaker that he’s seen such a ban proposed.
“If you are doing what you really believe in, it shouldn’t mater who hears it,” Bruce said. “I just don’t think that it’s right to tell the media or anybody that you don’t have a right to say what you want to say.”
Still hope for the bill?
Jeff Graham, the Georgia Equality executive director who gave his 70-second pitch for workplace equality (watch video) during the Feb. 21 hearing, said it’s time for supporters to lobby their lawmakers over the legislation.
“The bill is still alive and we will continue to push very, very hard,” Graham said. “The best thing that people can do right now is to contact their own individual legislators to ask Rep. Jacobs and Rep. Willard to allow this bill to come up for a vote before the committee.”
Graham also said that it’s critical for LGBT people to counter the misinformation distributed by opponents of the legislation.
“It is also really important that people speak out against what Concerned Women for America is doing, They want to operate in the shadows because they know that their research report is full of dangerous inaccuracies about the LGBT community. And they are embarrassed by their own testimony and that people have viewed their own testimony and people are making their decisions about what the CWA stands for,” Graham said.
Willard is a co-sponsor of H.B. 630, along with a bipartisan coalition of more than 70 lawmakers. Rep. Ed Lindsey, an Atlanta Republican and Majority Whip, sits on the subcommittee but did not speak during the hearing. Afterwards, he wouldn’t specifically respond to a question about his support for the legislation.
“Generally I oppose discrimination and look forward to a full hearing on the bill,” said Lindsey, whose District 54 includes portions of gay-friendly Buckhead.
Throughout the hearing, at least two police officers were stationed inside the committee room and four others were outside in the hall. They were state troopers and Capitol police officers.
Opponents of H.B. 630 confronted a reporter from Project Q three times during and after the hearing. During one of those instances, which came after the hearing, a supporter poked the reporter in the shoulder and admonished him for publishing the Ditty video.