After a flurry of opposition, including an uprising by LGBT activists and a dis by Delta Air Lines, a controversial "religious freedom" bill in the Georgia House appears dead.
The powerful Republican head of the Judiciary Committee, where House Bill 1023 would see a vote, said late Tuesday that the measure is dead for this legislative session, according to WABE. A packed subcommittee hearing on Monday, filled with more than 150 LGBT activists and progressive allies, prompted sponsor Rep. Sam Teasley to revise it on the fly. That didn't seem to help its survival.
The bill is currently in the House Judiciary Committee. After two packed subcommittee meetings in recent weeks, Judiciary Chair Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, says more vetting is needed on the bill. He says it likely won’t make Monday's Crossover Day deadline, the date in which legislation must be approved by at least one chamber to remain alive.
“Can’t see it happening. It came in rather late in the session. Too many proponents and opponents,” said Willard.
But a similar measure in the Senate from state Sen. Josh McKoon, Senate Bill 377, gained approval from the Judiciary Committee on Friday and could see a floor vote.
On Monday, LGBT activists flooded a subcommittee hearing at the State Capitol that saw hours of delays before finally seeing about 45 minutes of testimony and a promise from subcommittee chair state Rep. Barry Fleming that a second hearing would be held. Late Tuesday, that hearing was set for 7 a.m. on Wednesday, then was quickly cancelled. Critics of the bills say they could open the door to anti-gay discrimination, but Teasley dismissed those concerns as red herrings and said that's not the intent of the legislation.
"Absolutely not," Teasley said (video above) after Monday's hearing. "My faith teaches me that everyone needs to be treated with dignity and respect. So this law does nothing to change that. As a matter of fact I think this law reinforces that."
Teasley defended his measure to a gaggle of reporters after the hearing before a House Judiciary subcommittee. He says his "Preservation of Religious Freedom Act" helps protect people of faith from government intrusion on their beliefs.
But LGBT activists and progressive allies packed Monday's hearing to argue that it could impact gay Georgians, people with HIV and scores of others. Jeff Graham, Georgia Equality's executive director, said that Teasley's proposal could negate municipal protections for LGBT people put in place in several cities across the state.
"We are concerned that any of these religious freedom bills will have a chilling effect on Georgia's 300,000 gay and transgender citizens," Graham said during the hearing (video below). "Protecting religious liberties is important but so is protecting the rights of minorities who have a proven history of discrimination and bias directed against them."
As the crowd waited for more than three hours for the hearing, state Sen. Jason Carter made a quick appearance and waved to the crowd. The Democrat is running for governor. The 45-minute hearing closed with an impassioned takedown of the proposal from Rep. Simone Bell, one of three openly gay state lawmakers.
Late Tuesday, Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines said it "strongly opposed" the proposals in Georgia and a similar one in Arizona awaiting the governor's signature.
"As a global values-based company, Delta Air Lines is proud of the diversity of its customers and employees, and is deeply concerned about proposed measures in several states, including Georgia and Arizona, that would allow businesses to refuse service to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. If passed into law, these proposals would cause significant harm to many people and will result in job losses. They would also violate Delta's core values of mutual respect and dignity shared by our 80,000 employees worldwide and the 165 million customers we serve every year. Delta strongly opposes these measures and we join the business community in urging state officials to reject these proposals."