Top Ga. lawmakers quash effort to overturn veto

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The top two Republican leaders of the Georgia General Assembly said they won't hold a special legislative session to try and override a veto of an anti-gay bill. 

Even before Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed House Bill 757 on Monday, lawmakers threatened a special session to override it. Anti-gay religious activists joined the calls on Tuesday. But Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle (photo) and House Speaker David Ralston – who paved the legislative way for the anti-gay legislation – said they won't call lawmakers back to the State Capitol. Via the AJC:

Both said they would oppose a veto session, with Ralston saying it “has the potential to be counterproductive.” The House leader also added that time would be better spent trying to reach a consensus among lawmakers than rebuking the governor’s veto.

“I don’t know that the votes would be there to override the veto,” Ralston said. “My preference would be to come together and focus on the substance of the bill rather than the rhetoric that’s out there — and reach a resolution.”

But “religious freedom” legislation will return in 2017, the two lawmakers told the AJC.

House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said Thursday that they would not push to overturn Gov. Nathan Deal’s veto of a “religious liberty” measure, but both vowed to unite behind a new version of the controversial legislation next year.

In an exclusive joint interview, the leaders of the two legislative chambers told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that they are ready for a fresh start on the debate over the measure, which would extend legal protections to opponents of same-sex marriage, and are heeding the calls of religious conservatives clamoring for more safeguards for faith-based organizations.

They would not commit to any specific language in the next version of the measure, including whether they would include a broader anti-discrimination clause sought by gay rights activists. But they downplayed the barrage of threats from Hollywood heavyweights and blue-chip corporations who said they would boycott the state if the measure became law.

Ralston pushed a mostly-innocuous Pastor Protection Act through the state House in February. The measure reiterated current protections for faith leaders and said pastors couldn't be forced to conduct gay weddings. But Cagle and Senate Republicans hijacked the measure and combined it with the anti-gay Frist Amendment Defense Act. 

That measure passed the Senate on Feb. 19 and provoked a national backlash. So then lawmakers hijacked the original Pastor Protection Act, House Bill 757, and rewrote it to include anti-gay provisions from the First Amendment Defense Act and a state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That measure passed on March 16 and heightened the national outcry over the legislation.

But Ralston and Cagle, in the interview withe AJC, continued to defend the legislation as a compromise.

And they cast the version of the legislation that swiftly passed both chambers this month as a compromise, watered-down from the Senate’s more strident measure, that was hashed out with business groups and Deal’s aides at the table.

“I can’t speak for anyone else, I can just speak for myself. We entered into good-faith negotiations in hopes that we could get to a reasonable bill that would reach a consensus with everyone,” Cagle said. “Obviously, we were not able to do that, but it’s not the end of the world. It’s just the beginning of a new chapter.”

Deal vetoed the measure on Monday, concerned about the bill's impact on the state's reputation and economy and worried that it legalized discrimination.

“I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia, which I and my family have been a member of for all of our lives,” Deal said.

Ralston and Cagle, despite evidence from critics of the bill, maintain that it doesn't allow for discrimination. (Yet it does. It also threatens LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances in about 60 jurisdictions in the state.)

“I am interested in a resolution and not having an issue out there in perpetuity,” Ralston said. “Some people like having an issue more than a solution. I’d rather reach a solution.”

And Cagle, for his part, promised the “issue does not go away.”

“There is still a tremendous amount of emails and correspondence that we’re receiving that is looking for action to be done on this,” Cagle said. “I, for one, believe very strongly that we do need to ensure that this standard is put in place for the state of Georgia. And I think that more dialogue will occur during the interim. And when we get back into the session by January, we will chart a course forward.”


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