Down to the wire

Timeline of fight against anti-LGBT bill.

GA Voice - - Front Page - By PA­TRICK SAUN­DERS

The battle over Ge­or­gia’s so-called “re­li­gious free­dom” bills be­gan rel­a­tively qui­etly, but the in­tro­duc­tion of a sur­prise op­po­nent to the bills and a jagged mo­men­tum shift back and forth over the fi­nal weeks of the ses­sion made for na­tional head­lines. Re­live the punches and counter-punches of the fight here.

Dec. 30

Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Ma­con) pre-files House Bill 29, his ver­sion of the “re­li­gious free­dom” bill.

Jan. 12

The 2015 Ge­or­gia leg­isla­tive ses­sion be­gins.

Jan. 13

Re­li­gious lead­ers from mul­ti­ple faiths and de­nom­i­na­tions hold a press con­fer­ence at the Paul Coverdell Build­ing to de­nounce the so-called “re­li­gious free­dom” bills.

Jan. 26

A group of 18 legal schol­ars re­lease a let­ter ob­ject­ing to the pas­sage of HB 29.

Jan. 28

It was Bap­tist pas­tors ver­sus Bap­tist pas­tors at the Capitol as one group held a press con­fer­ence in sup­port of the bill while an­other held a press con­fer­ence in op­po­si­tion to it.

Feb. 4

Rep. Teasley files House Bill 218, an al­ter­nate ver­sion of his bill that strips lan­guage that ap­peared to broaden parental rights. The move is made to ap­pease crit­ics who said the pre­vi­ous bill opened up the door to al­low child abuse by par­ents who cite their re­li­gious be­liefs. No lan­guage is added pro-

tect­ing against LGBT dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Feb. 18

Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Colum­bus) in­tro­duces Se­nate Bill 129, his ver­sion of the “re­li­gious free­dom” bill. It con­tains no pro­tec­tions against LGBT dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Feb. 19

The day af­ter McKoon in­tro­duces SB 129, it’s heard be­fore the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, of which he is the chair­man. McKoon rules an anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion amend­ment pro­posed by state Sen. Bill Cowsert, the Repub­li­can vice chair of the com­mit­tee, as out of or­der. Cowsert crit­i­cizes McKoon for not giv­ing com­mit­tee mem­bers enough time to pre­pare amend­ments. The bill is tabled, mak­ing for a tem­po­rary set­back for McKoon.

Feb. 21

In the first ma­jor bomb­shell of this year’s “re­li­gious free­dom” bill fight, Ge­or­gia Equal­ity an­nounces that they have hired Repub­li­can for­mer Ge­or­gia At­tor­ney Gen­eral Mike Bow­ers to give his legal anal­y­sis of the bills. Bow­ers was on the op­po­site side of two of the state’s big­gest LGBT rights cases in Ge­or­gia his­tory. Bow­ers slams the bills, call­ing them a “dis­as­ter” and “noth­ing but an ex­cuse to dis­crim­i­nate.”

Feb. 24

A group of Ge­or­gia Repub­li­can state rep­re­sen­ta­tives fire back at Bow­ers, re­leas­ing a state­ment call­ing him “shame­less” and say­ing that the legal opin­ion of the for­mer top at­tor­ney in the state is not cred­i­ble.

March 2

SB 129 reap­pears in the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee at the last minute and is taken off the ta­ble and ap­proved for pas­sage out of com­mit­tee. No Democrats were present to vote on it and the vote oc­curred while state Sen. Vin­cent Fort (D-At­lanta), who op­poses the bill, was in the bath­room. McKoon’s bill is back on track.

March 5

SB 129 eas­ily passes in the Se­nate by a vote of 37 to 15 and moves over to the House for con­sid­er­a­tion. McKoon’s bill con­tin­ues its mo­men­tum to­wards fi­nal pas­sage.

March 9

Rep. Teasley drops his House ver­sion of the bill and pledges to do ev­ery­thing he can to see that SB 129 passes. All eyes cen­ter on SB 129 for the re­main­der of the ses­sion.

March 11

State Rep. David Ral­ston, a for­mer state Se­na­tor and now Speaker of the House, was in­ter­viewed on Ge­or­gia Public Broad­cast­ing’s leg­isla­tive show, “Law­mak­ers.” He said he is not yet con­vinced SB 129 is needed. “My ques­tion is, and the ques­tions I’ve asked, is if a con­sti­tu­tional guar­an­tee is not suf­fi­cient than what is this bill, this statute, go­ing to do that our con­sti­tu­tion doesn’t do?” he told host Bill Nigut.

March 17

Ge­or­gia Unites Against Dis­crim­i­na­tion holds a St. Pa­trick’s Day rally in Lib­erty Plaza next to the Capitol, drawing at least 200 peo­ple in op­po­si­tion to the bill.

March 18

Pro­gres­sive and LGBT rights groups, fed up over the busi­ness com­mu­nity’s lack of ac­tion against the bill this ses­sion as op­posed to the pre­vi­ous one, pub­licly call out the Metro At­lanta Cham­ber of Com­merce, the Ge­or­gia Cham­ber of Com­merce, AT&T, Coca-Cola and oth­ers, for not speak­ing out as they did last year, help­ing de­feat the mea­sure.

March 23

The Ge­or­gia Voice breaks the story that McKoon has ties to an anti-LGBT min­istry based in Colum­bus. McKoon was the reg­is­tered agent and lawyer for the min­istry and had in­vited its chap­lain to be chap­lain of the day at the Capitol.

March 24

SB 129 gets a hear­ing be­fore a spe­cial House sub­com­mit­tee. The hear­ing ends with­out a vote on the bill.

March 25

The sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing re­sumes and SB 129 passes out of com­mit­tee, mov­ing it on to a hear­ing be­fore the full House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee. It’s one step away from a House floor vote and McKoon re­gains mo­men­tum.

March 26

Af­ter two hours of tes­ti­mony be­fore the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, Rep. Mike Ja­cobs, a Repub­li­can from Brookhaven, in­tro­duces an amend­ment adding lan­guage pre­vent­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion into the bill, and it sur­pris­ingly passes. The bill is tabled, deal­ing a ma­jor blow to SB 129 with just days left in the leg­isla­tive ses­sion. In In­di­ana, Gov. Mike Pence signs Se­nate Bill 101, the Re­li­gious Free­dom Restora­tion Act (RFRA), into law. McKoon has com­pared In­di­ana’s law to his pro­posed leg­is­la­tion. In­di­ana’s new law does not con­tain lan­guage pre­vent­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion.

March 27

State Rep. Wen­dell Wil­lard (R-Sandy Springs) calls an­other meet­ing of the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee to oc­cur on March 30, breath­ing tem­po­rary life into the bill. Na­tional back­lash erupts against In­di­ana and Gov. Pence, with cor­po­ra­tions, politi­cians and more say­ing the bill does noth­ing more than dis­crim­i­nate against LGBT peo­ple.

March 28

Thou­sands of op­po­nents of In­di­ana Se­nate Bill 101gather on the lawn of the In­di­ana

State House to rally against the new law.

March 29

On the eve of the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee hear­ing, Wil­lard can­cels it with­out com­ment, tak­ing McKoon by sur­prise. The move comes amid re­ports that the Repub­li­cans who voted for the anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion amend­ment in the pre­vi­ous hear­ing re­fused to change their vote. The back­lash against In­di­ana, in­clud­ing calls for boy­cotts of the state, con­tinue to make na­tional head­lines.

March 30

Fac­ing in­cred­i­ble back­lash from ma­jor cor­po­ra­tions, na­tional sports or­ga­ni­za­tions, and thou­sands of lo­cal ac­tivists, the In­di­ana Repub­li­can lead­er­ship an­nounces they are work­ing on lan­guage to a new state bill that would en­sure the “re­li­gious free­dom” bill does not dis­crim­i­nate against gays and les­bians. Democrats, how­ever, want a full re­peal of the law.

March 31

Ge­or­gia Unites Against Dis­crim­i­na­tion holds a rally and march in op­po­si­tion to the bill. At­lanta Mayor Kasim Reed re­leases a state­ment shortly af­ter­ward de­nounc­ing the bill. Gov. Pence pledges to “fix” In­di­ana’s “re­li­gious free­dom” bill to en­sure it does not dis­crim­i­nate against gays and les­bians.

April 2

The Ge­or­gia Gen­eral As­sem­bly is set to con­vene at mid­night, af­ter the Ge­or­gia Voice’s press time.

Op­po­nents of SB 129, the so-called “re­li­gious free­dom” bill, rally and march on the Ge­or­gia State Capitol on March 31. (Photo by Pa­trick Saun­ders}

Jeff Gra­ham sits next to state Sen. Josh McKoon at the March 26 House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee hear­ing on SB 129, McKoon’s pro­posed ‘re­li­gious free­dom’ bill. (Screen cap­ture via Ge­or­gia House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives)

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