Supporters of an anti-gay "religious freedom" bill renewed calls for a special legislative session after Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed the controversial bill on Monday.

On Friday, Sen. Bill Heath said he would pursue a special session if Deal vetoed the bill. The governor did and minutes later, Sen. Mike Crane issued a call for lawmakers to overturn the veto.

 

Crane (photo), who is running for Congress, launched a petition effort on his campaign site.

But the path to a special session is difficult. Via the AJC:

Lawmakers adjourned for the year Thursday. There are ways, however, they could return to Atlanta before January. The governor can order them back — which is unlikely.

Barring that, the state Constitution says legislators can decide to return on their own. Three-fifths of the members of both the House and Senate have to “certify to the governor in writing … that in their opinion an emergency exists in the affairs of the state.”

That would require 108 members of the House and 34 members of the Senate to call themselves back in. House Bill 757, the source of all this hubbub, received the votes of 104 of the 118 Republican members of the Georgia House and of 37 of the 39 Republican members of the Senate.

Also Monday, lawmakers said the "religious freedom" debate will return to the State Capitol next year.

State Sen. Josh McKoon, who has pushed "religious freedom" bills for the last three legislative sessions, said the fight is not over. Via the AJC:

“The question we have to resolve is whether or not government is going to be used to punish people with a particular point of view,” Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, one of the champions of religious liberty bills in the General Assembly, said.

McKoon was speaking with Boston NPR station WBUR via telephone. “I see that in my state,” he said. “I fully expect we’ll be back next year debating this again.”

Lt. Casey Cagle, a likely candidate for governor in 2018 who has launched an offensive against gay marriage, said the bill struck "the right balance." He did not indicate whether he supported bringing lawmakers back to the State Capitol for a special session. Via Georgia Pol:

The Georgia General Assembly worked hard to find the right balance on this most challenging of issues. An important and legitimate concern has been largely lost in the hyperbole and criticism surrounding this debate: our state can and should take an active role in protecting the right of individuals to practice their faith without government interference. I’ve always advocated for Georgia’s status as the number one state to do business, but as we move forward I will never lose sight of the importance of an individual’s right to practice their faith. This principle will continue to guide my actions going forward.

House Speaker David Ralston said the merits of the legislation had been ignored. Ralston for months had questioned the need for a "religious freedom" bill and then proposed his own Pastor Protection Act, only to allow the anti-gay House Bill 757 to be pushed through the General Assembly. Via Georgia Pol:

I respect Governor Deal and the thoughtful consideration he brought to this discussion. I know his choice to veto this measure was not easy.

HB 757, the Free Exercise Protection Act, was a good faith compromise measure which was the result of a lot of hard work and debate involving many interested parties of every perspective. I want to thank all who participated in this process, particularly Rep. Kevin Tanner.

I have shared many of the same concerns expressed by Governor Deal. That is why I have insisted throughout this entire debate that any measure we passed must not only protect the free exercise of religion and faith-based organizations, but also had to include clear anti-discriminatory language. I believed, and still do, that HB 757 met the test we shared.

It is regrettable that the merits of this measure have been ignored in the days since its passage by critics who had not taken the time to read the bill or understand the legal issues involved.

I take pride in the leadership role the House played in making Georgia the number one state in which to do business. We all aspire to a Georgia which is welcoming, hospitable and growing. At the same time, we have a duty to the Georgians we serve — the Georgians who live, work, play and worship here — to listen to their concerns.