Despite easy passage of a controversial “religious freedom” bill in the state Senate on Thursday, the House lawmaker backing a similar proposal says he's dropping his legislation.
That move from state Rep. Sam Teasley (photo), a Marietta Republican, leaves Senate Bill 129 from Sen. Josh McKoon, a Republican from Columbus, the lone survivor of an issue that has dominated the Georgia Legislature this session. LGBT activists, progressive lawmakers and faith leaders have said the bills would open the door to anti-gay discrimination against.
Teasley's bill had stalled in the House Judiciary Committee, likely in part over the concerns of House Speaker David Ralston. Earlier this year, Ralstonquestioned the need for the measure.
But the fate of Teasley's bill likely rested with his actions on Thursday. As McKoon's measure was gliding to approval, Teasley joined 43 Republicans in voting against House Bill 170, the transportation funding bill. That also put him at odds with Ralston. The two shared a heated conversation on the House floor, captured in a telling photograph by the AJC.
Thursday’s transportation vote could have implications elsewhere. Above you’ll see a photo of an intense conversation between state Rep. Sam Teasley, R-Marietta, and House Speaker David Ralston, during the debate over H.B. 170. In the end, Teasley stalked away, visibly angry.
On Thursday, Teasley was congratulating McKoon on Senate passage of his bill.
Well, that was one of the most interesting days I have ever experienced in politics.
On the encouraging side, I applaud the Georgia State Senate and specifically Senator Josh McKoon for the passage of Senate Bill 129, the Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act. I am proud to stand with him on placing a check on government’s ability to unnecessarily burden a person’s free exercise of religion. Well done!
But by Sunday, Teasley dropped his “religious freedom” bill and pledged to back McKoon's version as it faces House consideration.
State Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Marietta) filed a similar bill in the House, but it has not gotten out of committee. Because S.B. 129 is so similar to his bill, Teasley said he would now shift his focus to helping get McKoon’s bill to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk.
“I’m very happy with the language that’s in Senate Bill 129 and wholeheartedly support it,” Teasley said. “I’ll be working with Senator McKoon in the House, doing everything I can to see that Senate Bill 129 gets passed.”
Teasley said he hasn’t spoken to McKoon about whether Teasley would carry the bill in the House, but Teasley said he is willing.
“I’m obviously very comfortable with the subject matter, but we haven’t discussed that,” he said. “But I will do everything in my power to see that it gets passed.”
McKoon's bill is likely to surface in the House Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by state Rep. Wendell Willard. What happens there is anyone's guess. Willard, a Sandy Springs Republican, is a co-sponsor of a bill from lesbian state Rep. Karla Drenner to ban discrimination against LGBT state employees. But in 2012, Willard stalled a similar bill in a messy hearing with state troopers and limits on media coverage.
And in case you were starting to believe the rhetoric of Teasley, McKoon and even Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert, don't. They've argued all along – sometimes getting drowned out by the anti-gay religious zealots backing them – that the bill won't open the door to discrimination and undercut LGBT protections put in place in Atlanta and other municipalities across the state.
LGBT opponents and faith leaders have said that's bunk. Yet another legal scholar agrees.
“Anything in conflict with the state law – if it’s a local ordinance – would be preempted by the state law,” WABE legal analyst Page Pate said.
The proposal would give people a new legal “leg to stand on” if they want to challenge a non-discrimination policy like Atlanta’s, Pate said.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to win, but I do think it’s going to open up a lot of litigation that really is unnecessary and may not ultimately be successful,” Pate said.
Once anti-gay former Georgia Attorney General Michael Bowers agrees.