A House Judiciary subcommittee on Monday voted to send House Bill 849 to the full Judiciary Committee. The bill, entitled the Georgia Civil Rights in Public Accommodations Act, would provide civil rights based on race, religion, and national origin in places of public accommodation, including hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and movie theaters. Georgia is currently one of five states without a civil rights law, which means anyone with a complaint would need to seek a federal remedy. In presenting the bill, its author, Rich Golick of Smyrna, said that by defining a process to make a claim the Georgia’s existing Georgia Commission on Equal Opportunity, anyone who felt their rights were being infringed on could have their issue resolved more quickly at the state level.
The only witness called was Jeff Graham, the executive Director of Georgia Equality, who extended his appreciation to Rep. Golick and the committee for working on civil rights legislation, although he noted there were no protections for women, the elderly, the disabled, and other minorities. He also noted there were 59 cities and counties in Georgia that went further in combating discrimination by passing local ordinances.
Rep. Taylor Bennett of Brookhaven offered an amendment to the bill that would have added protection for “sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or veteran’s status” to the original list of race, religion, and national origin. Committee member Roger Bruce of Atlanta urged adoption of the amendment, noting that some of the newly proposed protected classes in the amendment were not issues when the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed, and that the legislature shouldn’t wait another 50 years to fix those things that are issues today.
Nonetheless, the amendment failed by a vote of 6-4. Following the meeting, Rep. Barry Fleming of Harlem, who sits as an ex-officio member of the subcommittee said that the 1964 civil rights act had some very specific definitions and a history that had stood up over time, and that it was important to have Georgia’s civil rights act match as closely as possible. Fleming said that following the federal precedent was the conservative thing to do.