Republicans in the Georgia Senate engaged in legislative trickery on Monday, holding a hearing on one of the most anti-gay bills in the legislature with little notice and then adjourning just minutes after it started.
No action was taken on Senate Bill 284 – dubbed the First Amendment Defense Act of Georgia by sponsor Sen. Greg Kirk (photo) – but the hearing caught opponents by surprise. Kirk filed the bill on Jan. 21.
On Monday, the Senate Rules Committee was scheduled to meet at noon. But as the Senate adjourned for the day shortly after convening, the Senate Press Office abruptly announced via Twitter that the committee would meet after the adjournment – without mention of what was on the committee's agenda and nearly an hour ahead of schedule.
Turns out, Kirk's bill was the only item up for consideration. Via the AJC:
No vote was taken on the bill by the powerful Senate Rules Committee — which decides whether bills receive floor votes in the chamber — but in a brief, 15-minute discussion on its merits, several of the committee’s majority Republican members said they saw little that worried them.
“It’s preventing discrimination against the religious community,” said state Sen. Hunter Hill, R-Smyrna.
The Rules Committee is chaired by Sen. Jeff Mullis, who is a co-sponsor of Kirk's legislation. The bill would allow religious organizations and businesses to opt out of serving gay couples and non-discrimination ordinances in 60 jurisdictions around the state. The legislation would also allow religious organizations involved in adoptions to discriminate against LGBT couples.
Opponents of Kirk's bill weren't amused by the legislative shenanigans on Monday.
— Regina Tweeta (@regina_tweeta) February 1, 2016
— Maggie Garrett (@maggiefgarrett) February 1, 2016
A last-minute hearing intended to surprise us all. https://t.co/CTLF584MtN
— Robbie Medwed (@rjmedwed) February 1, 2016
If a hearing is to be anything, it should be a meaningful opportunity for the public to be heard. Not this. https://t.co/ojJtJB6TPM
— Anthony M. Kreis (@AnthonyMKreis) February 1, 2016
— Georgia Unites (@GeorgiaUnites) February 1, 2016
The tactics rival those used by Sen. Josh McKoon last year when he pushed his own anti-gay “religious freedom” measure through the Judiciary Committee he chairs after it stalled. McKoon didn't include the bill on the published agenda and the vote came as a chief opponent, Sen. Vincent Fort, was in the restroom.
But opponents of the bill did manage to voice their concerns at the hearing on Monday. Cathy Woolard – the Atlanta mayoral candidate who is again lobbying for Georgia Equality during the legislative session – was just one of two people to testify. The other? Kirk.
“This bill creates a law for a single point of view, and that’s unconstitutional,” Woolard told the committee. “It would be allowing organizations that receive federal or state funding to discriminate. It would repeal some laws at the local level,” she said, a reference to cities including Atlanta that prohibit discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity.
The quick hearing came as opponents of “religious freedom” measures gathered for a forum at the National Center for Civil & Human Rights. The event from the Leadership Conference Education Fund included a mix of LGBT and progressive leaders who denounced the “religious freedom” bills as efforts to justify discrimination. Organizers also released “Striking a Balance,” a report that documents how religion has been used as an excuse to oppose the abolition of slavery, women's suffrage and equality, racial integration, immigration and LGBT equality.
The event included officials with Georgia Equality, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Georgia NAACP, SisterSong and Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.