House Judiciary Votes Do Pass on Civil Rights, Pastor Protection Bills

The House Judiciary Committee voted out Do Pass recommendations for the Pastor Protection Act and the Georgia Civil Rights in Public Accommodations Act, sending both bills to the Rules Committee prior to a vote in the full house. While the Pastor Protection Act passed without controversy, there was considerable discussion and proposed amendments to the civil rights bill.

Representative Rich Golick of Smyrna explained the civil rights law to the full committee much as he did on Monday for the subcommittee. And, much as happened on Monday, Rep. Taylor Bennett of Brookhaven offered an amendment that would protect additional classes of people, including sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or veteran’s status. Rep. Trey Kelley of Cedartown proposed an amendment dealing with public hiring and contracting that was ruled out of order by Chairman Willard. Rep. Beth Beskin of Atlanta offered an amendment to the Bennett amendment that stripped out all the proposed protected classes with the exception of sex.

There was considerable discussion over the Beskin Amendment, and whether it was her intent to permit discrimination against the categories of people she did not include in her amendment. Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, for example, asked Beskin if state employers should be able to discriminate based on disability or sexual orientation. Rep. Beskin said no. She wanted to make Georgia’s civil rights law in parity with the federal version, with no intent to damage other classes of people not mentioned in the bill.

In the end, Beskin’s amendment to the Bennett amendment passed with a vote of 8-5. Rep. Evans then proposed that a joint House-Senate study committee be created that would include four members each of the House and Senate, the Director of the Commission on Equal Opportunity (presently Melvin Everson), and a representative from the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission or a designee. The committee could issue a report prior to the 2017 session with proposals for legislation. Evans originally proposed this as an amendment to the bill, however Chairman Wendall Willard felt that a better approach would be to propose the study committee as a separate resolution.

By offering an amendment to include sex as a covered class under the civil rights bill, Rep. Beskin not only brought the measure closer to the civil rights covered under U.S. Accommodation law, but she managed to avoid a likely no vote on Rep. Bennett’s efforts to include additional classes of people covered by the bill.

The two measures will now likely be voted on by the full House, and then sent to the Senate. Meanwhile, the Senate Rules Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday over the First Amendment Defense Act proposed by Senator Greg Kirk. By the time we reach Crossover Day on February 29th, it’s quite possible the three bills, along with Sen. Josh McKoon’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act could be up for consideration and amendments as we move towards Sine Die.

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