A path through on hate crimes?
action” against an agency that refused to perform services based on its religious beliefs.
SB 375 passed out of committee and passed in the Senate on Feb. 23, but has languished in the House ever since. The chances of the bill passing on its own are highly unlikely, as state House Judiciary Chairman Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) has made it clear he won’t bring the bill up for a hearing or a vote.
But the language of SB 375 could be attached to another bill and brought before the House before the gavel falls on Sine Die. The eyes of the LGBTQ community and the state’s business interests will be on that House session until it ends.
Other religious exemptions bills
Georgia’s conservative leadership, led in part by state Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), has been pushing for a religious exemptions bill for years, most notably when House Bill 757 made it to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk. The governor vetoed the bill, and in 2017 neither chamber made religious exemptions a priority. Despite that, Sen. Marty Harbin (R-Tyrone) introduced Senate Bill 233, which intends to incorporate religious exemptions language into state law by reference.
“He offered a clean, state version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. I have certainly continued to advocate for the passage of that bill,” McKoon told Georgia Voice before this year’s session began.
However, with clear orders from Deal and Ralston to leave such bills alone, it never got a hint of consideration this year and will likely fall by the wayside.
The effort to get Georgia to join the 45 other states in the U.S. with a hate crimes law on the books started off quickly this year, with three separate such bills being introduced in the early days of the session. The most promising of these appeared to be the one introduced by state Rep. Meagan Hanson (R-Buckhead), which was filed one day after a splashy press conference at the Capitol that saw Hanson backed by Rep. Willard, crucial law enforcement groups and numerous other stakeholders. However, neither Hanson’s bill or the other two managed to get a hearing or make it past Crossover Day, leaving the effort looking bleak.
But then, on March 8, the language from Hanson’s bill was attached to Senate Bill 373 — a bill that would create a new judgeship in Cobb County — which passed in the House Judiciary Civil Committee and headed to the full House for a vote, where passage would leave it one signature from law.
There was criticism of the committee for failing to include “gender identity” to bring transgender people into the fold — typically the most likely population to be victims of a hate crime. However, legal experts reviewed the case law and told Georgia Voice that the addition of “actual or perceived” gender to the bill would cover the trans community.
But as of press time, the bill has still not come up for a vote.
PrEP, comprehensive non-discrimination bills fail
One of the greatest criticisms of religious exemptions legislation is that at the federal level, there are civil rights protections — but not at the state level in Georgia. Two bills were introduced this year, one each in the House and Senate, to address this issue but none gained any traction.
And a bill introduced by queer state Rep. Park Cannon (D-Atlanta) that would launch a three-year statewide pilot program to distribute free pre-exposure HIV prophylaxis — or PrEP — to men and women at high risk for infection never made it out of the House.