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'Religious liberty' effort is only mostly dead. Keep your eye on HB 59


This message can't be understated in these final frenetic days of the legislative session: No bill is truly dead until that last gavel bangs at midnight on Sine Die.

Or to paraphrase the great Billy Crystal: The "religious liberty" effort that was tabled Thursday is only mostly dead. But mostly dead is partly alive.

 Three days remain in the 2015 legislative session, and while the bill faces steep odds of recovering this year, it is possible. It would require Willard calling another committee meeting, a successful motion to remove the bill from the table, a vote to again amend the bill to make it palatable to Fleming and others, votes to fend off other amendments, and then a vote on the bill itself — just to make it out of committee.

There's another less arduous path that can resurrect some proposals. Battle-hardened lawmakers typically have a running list of other pieces of legislation they could potentially tack their bills on if they run into problems. Sometimes that means amending an otherwise innocuous proposal, other times it means forcing the language upon a bill that also happens to be a legislative leader's top priority.

With the latter in mind, keep an eye on HB 59, which deals with the obtuse topic of sovereign immunity. The prime author is Wendell Willard, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee that tabled SB 129 on Thursday. It remains in the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, author of SB 129.

Did we mention that revenge sometimes get personal at the Capitol?

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Supporters of SB 129, the religious liberty bill, have posted  images of the four GOP lawmakers, and phone numbers, blaming them for the gutting of the measure by endorsing the insertion of an anti-discrimination clause into the legislation. Erick Erickson, the WSB Radio provocateur, will certainly call down hellfire during his 5 p.m. program. He started off this morning with the image of Judas on his website and a post that included these words:

A week before the anniversary of Judas betraying the our Lord, Beth Beskin, Jay Powell, and Wendell Willard betrayed you for monied special interests. They have time to make it right.

Given that Jacobs is Jewish, some caution might be in order if that metaphor is pursued.

This is what happened to the Ga Religious Freedom Restoration Act! It was gutted like a catfish by the House Judiciary Committee! Rep Mike Jacobs made a motion to amend the bill with language that would have nullified protection that people of faith needed from government intrusion.

But Griffin advised his followers to be courteous when chewing out the lawmakers.

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But you'll have to pardon Beth Beskin and Mike Jacobs if they're not shaking in their boots from a "religious liberty" backlash. Both represent untypical House Republican districts. Beskin's 54th District gave 59 percent of its 2012 presidential primary vote to Mitt Romney -- the highest of any House district in the state. In a 2012 question on "personhood" in a July general primary, the district was a 56 percent "no."

In Jacob's 80th District, Romney received 49 percent of the Romney vote in the 2012 presidential primary -- a hefty plurality. And it  defeated the aforementioned "personhood" question with 51 percent of the vote.

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This makes for some awkward timing. The House will take up Senate Bill 139 , which would prevent local governments from banning plastic bags, at the same time as Atlanta hosts a national symposium to discuss the worldwide pollution problem.

The symposium, hosted by Georgia State University and the David Sencer Centers for Disease Control Museum, began Thursday and continues through Friday. Critics of the proposal are using it as a platform to derail the legislation.

“Nothing we use for 10 minutes should be around for hundreds of years,” said Jennette Gayer, who heads the Environment Georgia advocacy group. “Unfortunately the plastic bag industry seems bent on tying the hands of public schools, cities and counties when it comes to grappling with litter and plastic pollution problems.”

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We're told that the Senate Reapportionment Committee just passed a House bill, on a partisan 5-4 vote, that tweaks the boundaries of the 59th District, now occupied by state Rep. Margaret Kaiser, D-Atlanta, and the 60th District of state Rep. Keisha Waites, D-Atlanta. The African-American voting age population in Kaiser's district was reduced from 57 to 50.9 percent, and the black VAP in Waites district was increased from 66.5 to 73.58 percent.

Why? Perhaps because Kaiser recently announced she'll be a participant in the 2017 race for mayor of Atlanta. And Republicans may be trying to make her district a little bit more GOP-friendly.

Updated at 1:05 p.m.: State Rep. Keisha Waites just called to take ownership for the aforementioned change in boundary lines -- but said she is now trying to reverse that change. Waites said she was trying to accomodate a friend who wanted to run for state Rep. Margaret Kaiser's seat once she left to run for mayor.

Waites said she had no idea that the boundary change would alter the demographics of both districts so drastically. "That was not my intention," Waites said.

A redrawn line that would require another vote, Waites said, could even give Kaiser's district a higher black population than it currently has.

 

 

 


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About the Author

Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.