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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Surprise! Georgia's 'religious freedom' bill is back from the dead (Update)

State Sen. Josh McKoon
Yes, today is Sine Dine, the 40th and final day of the Georgia General Assembly. That means anything and everything - especially terrible things - can happen under the Gold Dome.

Among the biggest early surprises from state lawmakers today is the return of legislation by state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, called the "Preservation of Religious Freedom Act" that would allow business owners to discriminate against LGBT and other minority groups if they felt their religious beliefs were being compromised.

It appeared that the measure, along with a similar proposal from state Rep. Sam Teasley, R-Marietta, had died following massive public backlash from LGBT supporters and corporations such as Coca-Cola, Home Depot, and UPS. But now we're hearing that his measure is being tacked on to two bills from state Rep. Mark Hamilton, R-Cumming: H.B. 714, a proposal that would cut unemployment benefits for seasonal private school workers, and H.B. 1027, a measure that dealt with unemployment insurance.

Left-leaning political advocacy group Better Georgia, which had collected more than 2,000 signatures to block McKoon's original bill, has re-activated a petition in hopes of stopping the legislation before the clock strikes midnight and lawmakers adjourn for the year.

"If enacted into law, the 'Religious Freedom Act' would protect business owners who deny services to lesbians, gays - and pretty much anyone else - if the business owners allege that they are denying service on the basis of a 'sincerely held religious belief,' Better Georgia Executive Director Bryan Long says. "Our lawmakers know this bill is bad for Georgia. That's why they are trying to sneak it into law in the last minutes of Legislative Session. Religion is not an excuse for hate or intolerance."

UPDATE, 6:14 p.m.: McKoon has withdrawn his "religious freedom" bill, which he considered adding to H.B. 714, due to "overwhelming" opposition.

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