Gov. Nathan Deal said he'll move as quickly as possible to review a "religious freedom" bill that has sparked a national controversy. But one lawmaker is already calling for a special session to override the governor if he vetoes the legislation.
LGBT and progressive groups, businesses and techies, the entertainment industry, sports leagues and tourism officials want Deal to veto House Bill 757, an anti-gay bill that the General Assembly approved on March 16. The legislation sparked a national outcry before it passed, something that only intensified since last week.
And opponents of the legislation are preparing to rally against it on April 5 at Liberty Plaza, which sits across the street from the State Capitol.
On Thursday, Deal visited both chambers in the closing hours of the legislative session. He didn't offer any hints on what action he will take and said that he doesn't have a timeline on when he'll render a decision to sign, veto or allow the legislation to become law without his signature. Deal has until May 3 to take action, though political pundits speculated that a decision could come as soon as Monday.
“I’ll try to act as expeditiously as possible, especially on major pieces of legislation,” he said, as lawmakers ticked down the final hours of the legislative session. “We don’t have a timeframe.”
Deal has warned lawmakers against passing a bill that allows discrimination. Critics have called House Bill 757 "a license to discriminate" though Deal has not said if he agrees with that interpretation.
I’m always concerned about the impact of any legislation. This has certainly been one that has attracted more attention than perhaps many others. But there are also other people who are citizens of our state, some of whom have been here for a very long time…who may share opposite opinions about this particular piece of legislation. It is a difficult piece of legislation, and is one that I am looking at very carefully.
If Deal vetoes the bill, Sen. Bill Heath (photo) – one of 37 Senate Republicans to vote for the measure – said the reaction would be swift. Via the AJC:
“We will call a veto session,” he said. “And we have the votes.”
Such a rebuke is not easy: It takes a two-thirds majority in both chambers to override a governor’s veto — a threshold the contentious bill failed to reach in its initial passage. But it speaks to the bubbling legislative angst over the measure, which Deal has until May 3 to sign or veto.
Also late Thursday, supporters of the bill took a shot at businesses who oppose it. A collection of the General Assembly's most outspoken anti-gay members hijacked House Bill 904 to retaliate against opponents. They inserted language into a conference committee report to allow employees or customers of a company with LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies to file a class-action lawsuit if the company didn't closely follow the policy.
The effort seemed to be motivated by Sen. Josh McKoon's public battles with Salesforce, which has harshly criticized House Bill 757.
The language was later pulled from the legislation, though the antics earned a rebuke on Friday from House Speaker David Ralston. McKoon and Ralston have been sniping at one another throughout the session over "religious freedom" legislation, resulting in McKoon's lonely political perp walk in front of a TV camera.
I’m not sure where [the language in the report] came from. You’ll have to look maybe over on the Senate side. I was very troubled by the first version of the conference committee report, and had no intention of calling it. I knew there was a Labor Department technical change that needed to be done so they redid it in order to get that done. You know, at some point we just have to lay these battles down and move forward as a state. I thought that the first version of that took us back.
Once the session ended early Friday, Mayor Kasim Reed again criticized the legislation. Via the AJC:
“I know my former colleagues in the General Assembly share my desire to keep Georgia at the forefront of economic development in the Southeast. I also recognize the sincerity of their efforts to balance those interests with the concerns of the faith communities in their districts. I oppose HB 757,but I will continue to work with Governor Deal, Speaker Ralston, and Lieutenant Governor Cagle on this and other issues of importance to our state.”
Last week, Reed said the bill would cause considerable damage to the reputation of Atlanta and the state.