In a surprise vote last week, the Georgia legislature rushed through the approval of a contentious religious liberty proposal intended to grant safe legal harbor to opponents of marriage equality.
Days remaining until Sine Die: 2
The measure cobbled together three competing proposals—the Pastor Protection Act, the First Amendment Defense Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act—into an omnibus bill stating that no member of the clergy may be compelled to officiate a wedding ceremony to which they object on religious grounds. But the bill also grants faith-based organizations, including those receiving state funds, the right to refuse service, to refuse to hire or to fire for sincerely held religious beliefs.
The as-passed bill, introduced first in the House as substitute legislation by Speaker David Ralston, now awaits final approval by Governor Nathan Deal, who has 40 days from the session’s close to either sign or veto the legislation.
The next seven weeks, a period known in the capitol as “bill review,” will be punctuated by increasingly sharp attacks from both sides as they lobby the governor’s pen.
Some of the state’s largest and most influential businesses have likened the bill to state-sanctioned discrimination. They have begun urging the governor to use his veto power to stave off the severe economic consequences that Indiana suffered after its governor signed a similar Religious Freedom Restoration Act bill last year.
Gov. Deal has demanded changes be made to already approved legislation green-lighting the presence of firearms on the campuses of state universities and colleges.
Specifically, the governor’s areas of concern include dually enrolled K-12 students who jointly attend college and daycare centers on campuses, as well as the ability of the governing boards of universities and technical colleges to set “reasonable rules” regarding disciplinary hearings.
A comprehensive MARTA funding bill won’t make its way out of the Gold Dome this year, but a narrow bill passed the House that would allow Atlanta to hold a half-penny MARTA funding referendum, a significant reduction of the $8 billion the rail agency originally envisioned.
The Senate must now agree to the changes the House made to SB 369 during the two final days of the session this week.
Super Bowl exemption
Under increasing pressure from the National Football League, the Senate voted to exempt from state and local sales taxes the purchase of tickets to the Super Bowl and other major sporting events. The league said Atlanta could only be considered as a site for a future Super Bowl if the tax break was on the books.
The tax exemption amounts to a revenue loss of about $10 million, but backers of the bill believe that revenue gap will be filled through the extra tourism expenditures of a Super Bowl.
That’s assuming Atlanta wins one of its two Super Bowl bids, though. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said this week he’s concerned that the just-passed religious liberty bill will kill the city’s chances at hosting the event.
Rape test kits
A proposal to expedite the review of evidence from cases of sexual assault was held last week in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, after previously passing the House on a unanimous vote. Committee Chair Renee Unterman held the bill because she said she saw no “reason to write a law” dictating police procedure statewide.