Senate 'Religious Freedom' Bill Tabled and Likely Dead

Feb 26, 2014

State. Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus.
Credit Ga. Senate

A 'religious freedom' bill that opponents said would open the door to discrimination against the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community appears dead for the year.

Any legislation with a chance of passing this session must be approved by at least one chamber by Monday’s Crossover Day deadline.

At Wednesday’s Senate Rules Committee meeting, Minority Leader Steve Henson motioned for Senate Bill 377 to be removed from Monday’s calendar. No Republicans on the committee objected.

Chairman Jeff Mullis announced the bill was tabled.

​“Yesterday, I kind of had a tough time making the decision and I think there’s a lot of concern with (SB) 377 and I’m going to let it rest right now on the side,” said Mullis.

Unless something unusual happens between now and Monday, SB 377 is effectively dead for the session.

After the meeting, Henson was pleased.

“Its genesis was targeting the LGBT community so I think it’s a good idea we moved forward without doing that this session.”

Henson and other bill opponents said it would have allowed private business owners to cite their religious beliefs as a reason to deny service to gay customers.

The bill got national attention, along with similar legislation in Arizona and handful of other states.

Before the committee meeting, the author of Georgia’s bill – Republican state Sen. Josh McKoon of Columbus – insisted a newly amended version of SB 377 left no room for discrimination against the LGBT community.

Unlike the Arizona bill, McKoon said his new bill protects religious freedom only in response to acts of the state, not individuals or business owners.

“I think if this legislation was put on the floor today it would pass and would pass by a significant margin. It’s unfortunate, in my view, that there’s been a conflation of the Arizona bill,” said McKoon.

He reiterated his original reason for sponsoring the bill – to help religious institutions combat regulations associated with Affordable Care Act.

Tuesday, leaders on the House side killed a similar bill and Atlanta-based Delta Airlines came out strongly against both House and Senate proposals, stating in a press release they violated the company’s core values.