Public Affairs representative Mike Griffin gives a recent update from the state capitol in Atlanta on Facebook.
The legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly has already kicked off! As we approach this session, we are beginning the second year of a 2-year legislative cycle. This means bills that did not pass last year are still available for consideration this year. In 2019 we were monitoring approximately 20 bills covering 11 subjects. To get the latest news and watch our introduction to the current session, join us on Facebook.
This year’s session also means it is an election year! Yes, an election year. Every two years the Georgia General Assembly is up for reelection in the House and the Senate. This typically means that legislators are more aware of citizens remembering what they “did” and “did not” vote for this year, more than last year. This usually means that some “hot button” issues will be “leaned away from” if it might hurt them or “leaned toward” if it will help them! Hey, this is just a fact of life “Under the Gold Dome”!
This is specifically where you and I come in!
It is important that you stay tuned in to what is happening at the Georgia Capitol and be in prayerful contact with your legislator, both in the House and the Senate! There has never been a time when citizens need to be more sober and vigilant about what is happening in government and public policy than now!
The Life Act
Speaking of last year’s session, one of the most important pieces of legislation to ever pass the legislature (in my opinion) was HB 481, The LIFE ACT (Living Infants Fairness and Equality Act), also known as the Heart Beat Bill. As many of you know, this law is being held up in Federal Court.
Judge Steve Jones (Federal Judge, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia) issued a temporary injunction that prevents the LIFE Act from going into effect (was scheduled Jan. 1, 2020) “until further order from the court.” The laws surrounding abortion prior to the passage of HB481 are still valid.
As many know – and fully expected – this process is long and labor intensive. If the court strikes down HB481 in totality, the state can appeal to the 11th Circuit Court. There are several steps after that, but much depends on what happens elsewhere and the appetite of the Supreme Court.
Pro-abortion groups are happy with the Judge’s temporary injunction but do understand that it is early in the process. Pro-life groups should understand the same and act accordingly. This is not a time to lose hope. We must continue to fight for life … and support Governor Kemp and our lawmakers/elected officials who do, too!
As we turn our attention to this year’s session, there is no doubt in my mind, that legislation related to First Amendment rights known as Religious Liberty are paramount! It is important for us to understand (whether we are religious or not) that the first freedom that we were given is The Freedom of Religion!
The Founding Fathers knew that the government was never to tell us what we CAN or cannot believe. Furthermore, we cannot be treated as second-class citizens for those beliefs. Nor should we be considered unfit for public service because of those beliefs, the way Chief Kelvin Cochran and Dr. Eric Walsh were!
This is the beauty of the 1st Amendment. As a citizen, you can worship who, what, where, and when you want to OR YOU CAN CHOOSE TO NOT WORSHIP AT ALL! And this worship has the right to transcend a place of worship into the free exercise of that faith in a citizen’s everyday life. This is our conscientious right as Americans!
During the 2019 session, Senator Marty Harbin introduced the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) again in the Senate. SB 221 was introduced in the Senate Judiciary Committee, but Senator Harbin declined testimony until he had more time to explain the legislation. The good news is that this legislation is still alive and a hearing can be scheduled to be moved upon in 2020.
We have been working hard for five years trying to pass a RFRA in the Georgia General Assembly. We are not intending to give up on this important protection for our citizens. Stay tuned for more information on how we will be working together with other faith groups to make sure Georgians have full religious liberty protection in practicing their faith and doing missions in the state of Georgia. See here for more info on RFRA.
Hate Crimes legislation
On the heels of promoting Religious Liberty protection is the major concern about the threat that so-called “Hate Crimes” laws pose to the religious community. As we have seen in Canada and the United Kingdom, these laws lay the groundwork for future persecution against Christians. In 2018 Georgia Baptists adopted a resolution regarding Hate Crimes legislation.
Among other things, Hate Crimes legislation enhances penalties for crimes based on the victim’s actual or perceived “sexual orientation” or “gender identity.” Such crimes are already punished under Georgia law based on the nature of the act – an assault or murder, for example, is punished as assault or murder, regardless of the motive or the identity or characteristics of the victim. The bottom line is that justice demands that all victims be treated with respect and dignity, no matter who they are. If someone kills another person, the perceived motive – the criminal’s thought processes – shouldn’t dictate the penalty. The murderer should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
The inclusion of such categories as “sexual orientation” and “gender/gender identity” in the pending Georgia Hate Crimes bill creates a particular threat to Christians who adhere to biblical teaching about sex and marriage. We’ve already seen in Georgia how these poorly defined characteristics can be used to punish reasonable, sincere Christians like former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran. He lost his career and livelihood because of his faith, not because he had done anything wrong, as he was eventually cleared of ANY wrongdoing.
If the Hate Crimes bill passes, will any resistance to the LGBT agenda eventually be deemed a hate crime and prosecuted as such? This is happening in other countries – why could it not happen here?
Once again, it seems that proponents’ primary argument for this legislation is that “everyone else is doing it.” But Georgia should stand for equal protection, not against it, no matter what other states are doing.
There is no evidence that “hate crimes” are more frequent in Georgia than states that have the laws, so there is no reason to go down the dangerous road of punishing thoughts rather than actions – a road that will inevitably end in persecution of those of us who pledge our allegiance to God, not to progressive dogma. Experiences in the past have shown us that equal justice (not special justice) for all should always be our guiding principle, even when unpopular.
I have heard it put this way: “protecting some victims more than others is the antithesis of equal protection under the law. It is the opposite of Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream.“
This legislation (HB 486) was introduced by Representative Chuck Efstration and has already passed the House with a vote of 96-64 on March 7 of last year. It is waiting to see if the Senate will take it up.
Here we go again! This will be the sixth year of intense effort by the Predatory Gambling Industry to push more gambling down the throats of hard working Georgians!
As we talk about the expansion of gambling including casinos, para-mutual betting on horses, sports betting, and daily fantasy sports it is usually based upon some very basic false assumptions. A lot of this information I am sharing with you came from listening to the testimony of Les Bernal, national director of Stop Predatory Gambling, last fall in hearings at the state capitol.
1. ‘Gambling is just like any other business!’
The fact of the matter is that it is not! The difference, for example, between casinos and pari-mutuel betting, including vices like alcohol and smoking, is that it is a big con game. Citizens are conned into thinking that they can make money, when the real truth is that they are just going to get scammed!
For example, if you buy a hamburger, tickets to a football game, glass of wine, or even a pack of cigarettes that is exactly what you ae going to get! But when you put your hard-earned money into commercialized gambling you receive the “lure” that you are going to win some money in return. This is a financial exchange. But this financial exchange is mathematically and technologically rigged against you! Inevitably, you WILL lose your money especially if you keep doing it! Meanwhile the gambling operators are doing everything they can do to make feel good about losing.
Here’s the point: Gambling is always about winning at somebody else’s expense.
I agree with Les Bernal, “Legalized gambling is a form of financial fraud, similar to loan sharking, price gouging, and false advertising…”
2. “Just let the people vote!”
There is just one MAJOR problem with this: It won’t be a fair fight!
When elected officials and gambling lobbyists say we will just let the informed, educated public settle this issue in a casino referendum campaign, don’t believe it! I can pretty much guarantee that if every state legislator had to face a reelection where they would be out-spent 3-1, they would not be reelected regardless of their merit!
When you hear legislators say they won’t be the ones legalizing any more gambling in Georgia, don’t believe it. Because they are the ones who will OK the process for the gambling industry to hijack the ballot process by out-spending the anti-predatory opponents by a 250 to 1 margin! Seriously, how many sitting officials would be reelected if they were out-spent 250 to 1?
There actually was a recent case in Massachusetts where the gambling industry spent almost 15 million to stop a recall of casinos and almost never used the term casinos! That is already happening in Georgia where the legislation is being called “destination resorts.”
Last year we had Sen. Beech pushing very hard in trying to get the Senate to take up legislation (SB 45 and SR 84) that would have made pari-mutuel betting on horse racing legal in our state. Also, Rep. Stephens once again introduced legislation (HR 327) to promote casino gaming facilities known as “destination resorts.” And now we are hearing reports of legislation regarding the legalization of sports betting. See addition information from my testimony this fall.
These are just a few of the major pieces of legislation that are facing us this year. There are many more I plan on communicating to you about as the session progresses.
2020 Pastors Day
As I conclude, I want to tell you about a very important opportunity for training and encouragement available to our pastors, staff, and church leaders. This special event is for you to learn more about these issues and how you and your congregation can have an effective impact “Under the Gold Dome.”
You don’t want to miss the 2020 Pastors Day at the Georgia State Capitol January 27!
During lunchtime, we will have Alliance Defending Freedom staff leading us in a communication training for pastors, staff and church leaders. We are honored to have regional director Harrison Smith and attorney Matt Sharp with us.
Our topic this year is based on how important it is in our day that the church knows how to speak into culture without losing the importance and relevance of the Gospel message. This training is designed to help you confront the issues of our day with a voice of hope and reason.
Note the following Agenda:
- Introduction starts in the Appropriations Committee Hearing Room (10 AM) Room 341 at the State Capitol (206 Washington St SW)
- Lunch and ADF Communication Training in the Empire Room (Noon, Sloppy Floyd Building (200 Piedmont Ave SW)
I am looking forward to seeing many of our pastors, staff, church leaders, and spouses at the year’s event!
Mike Griffin serves as Public Affairs representative for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.