Senate panel quietly OKs ‘religious freedom’ bill

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A controversial, anti-gay “religious freedom” bill gained quick approval by a state Senate committee on Monday in a surprise meeting that did not include any of the panel's Democrats.

Sen. Josh McKoon's S.B. 129 was slightly tweaked from the one that was tabled less than two weeks ago when it ran into opposition from Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert.

On Monday, Cowsert said the revised bill “strikes the right balance.”

The bill gained quick approval from McKoon (photo) and the Senate Judiciary Committee he chairs on Monday. But the vote surprised opponents and even the panel's three Democrats. The measure was not included on the published agenda for Monday's meeting. Sens. Vincent Fort, Ronald Ramsey and Curt Thompson – all Democrats – were not present at the meeting. Fort helped table the measure during a committee hearing last month.

The measure has ignited LGBT opponents, who say the measure can open the door to discrimination. Faith leaders on both sides have spoken out. And last week, Republican former Georgia Attorney General Michael Bowers lashed out at the proposal. The debate devolved into name-calling, warmongering and harsh media campaigns.

Last year, McKoon's bill and a similar one from state. Rep. Sam Teasley didn't survive committee hearings. Like McKoon, Teasley filed his bill again this session though it hasn't seen any movement. After Monday's vote, McKoon seemed pleased.

UPDATE | The AJC offers more details on the political shenanigans to move the bill out of McKoon's committee.

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