Capitol Update 10 – Religious Freedom and the end (of the Session)
It was an interesting and important week at the Capitol last week and with only two legislative days to go – the pace, anxiety, and workload have hit that fevered pitch we reach this time each year. Day 39 is Tuesday and our final day, Day 40 – Sine Die, is Thursday, March 24.
Bills of interest passing this past week:
The House unanimously passed Senate Bill 364 to revise annual performance evaluations for public school teachers and dramatically reduce the number of state mandated tests. I voted YES.
The House unanimously passed Senate Bill 402 establishing a moratorium on new applications for licensure of narcotic treatment programs and create a commission to study the current licensure requirements in Georgia. Georgia ranks third in the nation for the highest number of narcotic treatment clinics with 62 clinics, despite the fact that we are eighth in total population. I voted YES.
SB 350 and SR 558 – allocate funds from fireworks sales to Georgia trauma centers, fire services, and local public safety purposes. I voted YES.
SB 193 – increases the penalty for criminals who commit domestic violence. SB 193 makes it a felony for a person to commit family violence if that person has a previous conviction for family violence battery. The bill closes a loophole that previously allowed some offenders to receive a misdemeanor charge upon their second family battery conviction. I voted YES.
HB 757, now titled the Free Exercise Protection Act, passed both the House and Senate this week and now awaits action by our Governor. My House colleague, Rep. Mike Dudgeon, published a well written synopsis of the bill and the work that went into its passage. You may read it here.
This was one of the toughest votes I have cast as your state Representative. I voiced my opinion to those crafting the various pieces of legislation in an attempt to find a balance that would continue to recognize our freedom to practice our various faith traditions while defending against any sort of discrimination toward those that may not share those beliefs and traditions.
In the end, I voted YES for the revised HB 757 as I believe the most egregious and possibly unconstitutional provisions of earlier versions were removed and anti-discrimination language added. I have read numerous articles from both sides of the issue – neither are particularly pleased – which leads me to believe we may have found the appropriate middle ground.
Should HB 757 fail to provide both the freedom to practice one’s faith and a defense against discrimination toward any Georgian including LGBTQ Georgians, I will join efforts in future years to see that it does.
As we enter the final week of the 2016 Session, much work remains. Please continue to share your thoughts on the issues facing our state. As always, I appreciate that you allow me to serve as your state Representative – I hope to continue serving you in that capacity in future years.
Both the House and Senate are now actively considering bills – both remaining from last year as well as newly introduced legislation. You may view the meeting schedules online as well as watch many of the meetings live via your computer.
Let me hear from you
As always, I remain appreciative that you allow me to serve as your state Representative. I encourage you to contact me with any comments or questions you have about the legislation being considered at the state Capitol. You can reach me at my Capitol office at 404-656-0254 or on my cell at 404-966-5804 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for allowing me to serve,