Democrats in the Georgia House announced a legislative push on Wednesday, introducing measures to protect voting rights, expand Medicaid and support military families. But their priorities didn't include an LGBT-inclusive civil rights bill.
LGBT activists and faith leaders called on lawmakers earlier this month to pass an LGBT-inclusive statewide civil rights bill. And Rep. Stacey Abrams, the House Minority Leader, echoed those calls in December.
But the 35 bills wrapped into the legislative agenda from House Democrats didn't include the measure. Abrams said Wednesday that the caucus would support the legislation but that it doesn't yet exist.
“So we are very familiar with the bill, it’s being led by Georgia Equality, and they are still finishing the bill and seeking sponsors,” Abrams (photo) said. “We would support it. Certainly as a caucus this has been a cornerstone, and particularly because we are home to every single member of the LGBT Caucus in the General Assembly. However the bill has not been finalized, which is why it’s not included in our agenda.”
Sen. Lester Jackson, a Democrat from Savannah, is expected to introduce civil rights legislation that includes protections for LGBT people. A Senate staffer told Project Q Atlanta that the legislation will likely be introduced next week and will be a key platform for Democrats in the Senate.
The legislative agenda announced on Wednesday did include anti-discrimination legislation from Rep. Rhonda Burnough, a Democrat from Riverdale. The bill would ensure that schools receiving funds from student scholarship organizations do not discriminate based on race, gender, national origin, religion, sexuality or disability. The program provides income tax credits to individuals and companies that donate funds that can be used to award scholarships for students attending private schools. The controversial program is often used to help religious schools with anti-LGBT policies.
Also absent from the caucus' agenda was the Fair Employment Practices Act, a measure from Rep. Karla Drenner that would protect LGBT state employees from discrimination. Drenner, a Democrat from Avondale Estates and one of four openly LGBT members of the House, has introduced the measure with bipartisan support in past legislative sessions. Drenner has not introduced the bill during this session.
LGBT activists are pushing for a civil rights bill, though efforts to add LGBT protections to a similar measure failed in 2016. Earlier this month, Georgia Equality released a report detailing why such legislation was needed.
“There is a clear gap between some of the basic civil rights protections citizens are afforded in Georgia versus other states. It's time for Georgia lawmakers to address our state's outdated protections, and expand them to include commonsense protections for all Georgians from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations,” Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, said at the time.
LGBT lawmakers sponsor several bills
On Wednesday, the legislative agenda announced by Democrats included bills from other LGBT lawmakers. Rep. Park Cannon, an Atlanta Democrat who has a background working in women’s health, is co-sponsoring the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. The measure would protect pregnant workers from discrimination.
“As I stand holding the bill in my hands, I am very excited to move forward with making sure that women and families are able to work. That means if you become pregnant on the job, that means if you are already pregnant and then someone finds out, or if you plan on becoming pregnant that you will not be terminated [from your job],” Cannon said.
Rep. Sam Park (photo), a Gwinnett Democrat and the first gay man and Korean-American elected to the Georgia House, is sponsoring the Permanent Portable Registration Act. The bill would smooth voter registration for people who move or change their names.
“We’re all still kind of in the initial state, bills are being worked on with legislative counsel along with our offices,” Park said. “The main purpose of the bill is going to be to ensure that the right to vote remains as unabridged as we can possibly make it.”
“I’m still working on developing my legislative agenda as well,” Park added.
Rep. Keisha Waites, who represents parts of southwest Atlanta, is co-sponsoring legislation along with Rep. Brenda Lopez to increase access to college for nontraditional students. The College Completion Access Act would make the HOPE scholarship accessible to people who older and are not recent high school graduates.
Waites is also a key sponsor of a gun safety measure, as well as a bill to reduce distracted driving.
Abrams said the legislative agenda shows that House Democrats – who hold 62 of 180 seats – are "ready to stand up for Georgia."
“Democrats see government as a partner, not the enemy. But our government must respond to our needs. As your Georgia House Democratic caucus, and on behalf of the men and women who stand with me today, we stand ready to stand up for Georgia," Abrams said.