The Fayette County Commission stepped into the contentious debate over “religious freedom” legislation, voting to support a bill panned by critics as anti-LGBT and a threat to the state's economy.
But the commission side-stepped criticism of the bill and voted 4-1 on Jan. 11 to adopt a resolution calling on state lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 233 from Sen. Marty Harbin (photo). Harbin, a Republican whose district includes Fayette, urged commissioners to support the legislation and showed a three-minute video he created advocating for it.
“Just like monsters hiding under the bed, this boogeyman is a myth and fabricated to scare us,” Harbin said in the video (watch below), dismissing critics of the legislation.
Commissioner Charles Oddo said Harbin's bill doesn't open the door to discrimination, according to the Citizen.
“For me, this is a mirror-image of the federal bill. I don’t see it as a discriminatory bill, and that seems to be the crux of the whole matter here,” Oddo said, adding that he did not believe the bill, if it passes, would be used in a discriminatory way.
But Commissioner Charles Rousseau – who voted against the resolution – questioned whether the commission should step into the debate over the bill. Via the Citizen:
“Tonight we have created an atmosphere that has a number of people confused. I’m just trying to figure out what our position is here. Is this a litmus test to see how religious we are? Where we stand?” Rousseau asked, questioning if the occasion met the requirements of the commission’s charge. “Does it elevate us and does it meet the standard for what our responsibilities are?”
Some 20 speakers commented on the resolution during the commission meeting. Three elected officials – Reps. Derrick Jackson and Debra Bazemore, and Fayette County Board of Education member Leonard Presberg – opposed the resolution, according to the Citizen.
“It’s bad for Georgia. Anything that comes close to it will be defeated,” Jackson said, adding that Republican Gov. Nathan Deal would veto the bill if it passes.
Bazemore in her comments called the bill divisive, with Anderson saying that the adoption of a supporting resolution by the commission would hurt Fayette County’s image.
“The freedom to discriminate is not something we should tolerate or give the impression that we support,” said Presberg in his comments.
Harbin introduced the measure in 2017 with the support of 18 co-sponsors – all Republican men in the Senate. The legislation came after top GOP leaders said they weren't interested in another round of fighting over “religious freedom” measures. In 2016, Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a sweeping, anti-LGBT “religious freedom” bill, a move that Harbin called “absolutely wrong” and then demanded a special session so lawmakers could overturn the veto.
Last year, Harbin's bill sparked heated debate on the Senate floor before it was assigned to the Senate Rules Committee, where it stalled. In the closing days of the legislative session, Harbin threatened to amend the legislation to any bill he could. At the same time, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee – some of whom co-sponsored Harbin's bill – added anti-LGBT language to an adoption bill, tanking the bipartisan reforms to state laws governing adoptions and foster care.
On Tuesday, supporters of Harbin's bill rallied to revive the legislation and lobbied for its passage.