Republican Brian Kemp waded into a prickly political battle on Monday when he called on lawmakers to pass a measure to modernize Georgia's adoption laws without a controversial "religious liberty" provision and pledged to quickly sign it into law if elected governor.
That's likely a moot point, since Gov. Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston have said that a "clean" version of the adoption measure is a top priority for next year's session.
But it could put the secretary of state at odds with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, a rival candidate for governor who led the Senate in a feud with the House over the provision.
That battle dominated the final days of this year's legislative session. Senate Republicans made a late push in the Senate to inject a controversial provision that would have allowed some private agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex couples. And Deal repeatedly said he wanted a “clean” adoption bill without the religious liberty addition - and threatened to veto the measure if not.
The House and Senate ultimately couldn’t forge a deal in the final hours of the session, and the last-minute infighting frustrated House Speaker David Ralston, who had sided with Deal on the legislation. It also could have prompted Deal to veto on an unrelated foster-care measure backed by several Senate leaders.
Cagle and Kemp - along with the other leading Republican candidates for governor - have all pledged to sign the "religious liberty" measure if elected governor. But Kemp took a more nuanced position on the debate over the adoption measure.
In a policy statement on Monday, Kemp said he would raise the adoption tax credit from $2,000 to $6,000 and back legislation to make it eligible for all adoptions, not just those of qualified foster children. And he also took a firm stance in support of the legislation, proposed by state Rep. Bert Reeves.
"Efforts are already underway in the State House to update outdated laws that create red tape and frustration," he said. "As governor, I will refuse to play politics on this incredibly important and timely issue. Instead, I will urge lawmakers to pass a clean version of Rep. Bert Reeves' bill and I will sign it immediately."
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