Georgia’s “Religious Freedom” Bill Faces Setback, but It Isn’t Dead Yet

The bill's sponsor delayed a hearing at the last minute.

A so-called “religious freedom” bill that would grant those citing their faith a pass to discriminate against LGBTQ people and others has stalled in the Georgia Senate, but there remains a chance it could still become law.

Last week, Sen. Marty Harbin introduced Senate Bill 221, titled “The Religious Freedom and Restoration Act.”

On Monday, he delayed a scheduled hearing at the last minute, during a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting.

“Today, due to time constraints and my desire to be certain that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is properly vetted in the committee process, our first preliminary hearing has been temporarily postponed at my request,” Harbin (pictured below) said in a statement.

Sen Marty Harbin
Georgia Senate/Public Domain

Former Republican Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed similar legislation in 2016, but current Republican Gov. Brian Kemp said he would sign it into law, as long as it matched the federal “religious freedom” law, signed by former President Bill Clinton in 1993.

While the proposed legislation is similar to that law, it also includes provisions that would allow plaintiffs who win lawsuits against the government to recover their legal costs, as well as grant judges the power to order governments to change laws and practices deemed to infringe on religious beliefs.

Harbin said there was “still plenty of time” to pass SB 221.

Thursday is Crossover Day, when legislation must pass in one chamber of the legislature to remain active, Project Q Atlanta reports. As this is the first year in a two-year legislative cycle, the bill would carry over into next year’s session if it doesn’t pass this year, and could also be attached to other legislation as an amendment after Crossover Day.

As Project Q notes, that has been done in the past by conservative lawmakers with anti-LGBTQ measures, such as with an adoption bill in 2017.

Executive Director of Georgia Equality Jeff Graham said he was “relieved,” by the developments, but encouraged opponents of the bill to continue to follow it closely.

“The Judiciary Committee is currently scheduled to meet this coming Wednesday and we could see the bill return at that time,” Graham said in a statement. “We also know that sponsors of RFRA in the past have resorted to using legislative shenanigans in an attempt to have the language added to other bills. We expect to see such tactics used again this year.”

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