As usual, the 40-day legislative session was a very busy time of the year. This year’s session ended March 31. This was the first year of a two-year cycle where legislation is introduced to the Georgia General Assembly. As I told the Executive Committee on March 16, “We are facing one of the biggest moral crises in the history of America … it is happening as I stand here and speak.” That challenge is at the Georgia Capitol as much as anywhere.
Because of these challenges, Georgia Baptists monitored up to 30 pieces of legislation on a wide range of social and moral issues such as:
For the past six years, we have been trying to see Georgia pass a “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA). This will be the first year that we have not been able to get a bill introduced regarding RFRA. We are hoping that next year we will have RFRA reintroduced to the legislature. It's very important that we communicate to our House and Senate legislators how important this legislation is needed in Georgia.
One had to do with the “Forum Act” (Forming Open and Robust University Minds) (HB 1), introduced by Representative Josh Bonner. This bill protects students on our college campuses regarding their freedom of speech and freedom of association. The bill passed a House committee and was stalled in the House Rules Committee. We hope that since this bill was introduced during the first year of a two-year cycle, we can see its passage next year.
Governor Kemp in the House, as well as Senator Jason Anavitarte, introduced a bill known as the “Faith Protection Act” (SB 200) that prevents the banning of church worship services during an emergency order. The Senate version of this bill did pass and made it to the House Rules Committee, but it stalled there. The Senate tried to move the bill by attaching it to another piece of legislation they were sending to the House. However, the House did not allow it on the floor for a vote. This bill can still be voted on next year.
I'm adding to the religious liberty heading another important piece of legislation that was not technically about religious liberty, but it was about the rights of individual citizens. It concerned legal representatives and caregivers being able to visit loved ones in the hospital or long-term care facilities. The bill was called: “The Right to Visit Act” (HB 290) sponsored by Representative Ed Setzler.
Ultimately, this legislation had to do with a patient's legal representative and caregivers to visit them while in the hospital or in a long-term care facility. This was important legislation related to how family members were unable to visit their loved ones while getting medical treatment during the pandemic. The legislation went through several revisions and was passed successfully by the House. The legislation stalled in both the committee and on the floor of the Senate. Many in the healthcare industry and hospital industry did not want this legislation to pass. Thus, the bill was ultimately tabled in the Senate. Again, we hope that next session this legislation will pass in the second year of the cycle.
For the seventh year in a row, we have had to deal with legislation seeking to expand gambling in the State of Georgia. This year we had 11 bills dealing with gambling expansion or promotion. This year’s legislation dealt primarily with casinos, pari-mutuel betting on horses, online sports gambling, and COAM (Coin Operated Amusement Machines) Revision.
We're happy to report that while online sports gambling legislation (SR 135/SB 142 by Senator Jeff Mullis) did pass the Senate, it did not receive a hearing or any consideration in the House. The House did pass legislation (HB 86 by Representative Ron Stephens) out of one of the committees and Rules Committee regarding sports gambling as a statute. As a statute, this meant the legislation was not a constitutional amendment and it would be added to the Lottery Commission as a part of their oversight. This bill never came up for a vote in the House.
We are so thankful that all the gambling legislation stalled this year. However, we are concerned that it will be moving again next year. Therefore, it's important that all Georgians remain vigilant and communicate how important it is that NO predatory gambling be expanded in Georgia!
Note the following videos on gambling legislation:
There were three bills introduced into the 2021 legislative session that dealt with reducing the restrictions on alcohol.
The first bill dealt with reducing the distance requirements regarding the sale of alcohol near public schools (HB 392) by Representative Jason Ridley. The original intent of this legislation was to remove the state requirements on the distance of alcohol sales related to schools and place it totally in the hands of local government. However, the bill was amended so that only in unique circumstances would local governments be able to reduce the minimum standards. This bill passed the House and the Senate.
The second piece of legislation had to do with take-out sales regarding distilled spirits. This bill ended up being called the “cocktail take-out bill” (SB 236), which was introduced by Senator Matt Brass. The legislation that passed both House and Senate will allow up to (2) cocktails to be taken from a restaurant as a takeout order with a meal or as a to go order if certain stipulations are kept.
The third bill dealing with alcohol had to do with the petition requirement regarding the sale of distilled spirits in package stores. The current law required 35% of the registered voters to sign a petition requesting package store sales be placed on a referendum. The new legislation would remove the mandatory requirement of 35% on the petition and reduce it to 20%. It would also allow local governments to opt out of doing a petition at all. They could just vote to put it on the ballot as a referendum.
The House version (HB 273 by Representative Mandy Ballenger) of the bill would have removed petition requirements altogether, while the Senate version (SB 145, by Senator Matt Brass) of the bill left it in as an option. It was the Senate version that ended up passing.
By child protection legislation, I'm referring to legislation that protects our children and young people from evil and unhealthy influences on their lives. Under this heading there were several pieces of legislation.
First, there was the “Vulnerable Child Protection Act” (HB 401) by Representative Genny Ehrhart. This legislation has to do with protecting those who are 18 years of age or younger from having radical surgery or administering drugs to a child for the purpose of changing their gender. Most of these treatments are irreversible in their effects and the full long-term effects of these treatments have not been studied and are unknown. This legislation would also have made it a felony to allow such medical treatments on minors. The legislation did not get a hearing, but it is hopeful that it will get one in 2022.
Secondly, there is the “Parental Obscenity Appeal Act” (SB 226) by Senator Jason Anavitarte. This legislation started out as an attempt to remove school libraries as an exemption from state obscenity laws. Obscene literature and photos have been documented to have been made accessible to children through literature and E-books online. This part of the legislation was not able to be passed out of committee. However, an attempt was made to amend the legislation to provide an appeal process for parents to use when obscene materials are being accessed by their children. This legislation made it out of the Senate but bogged down in the committee process in the House.
Thirdly, there was legislation related to “protecting girls’ sports”. The was one bill in the House (HB 276) by Phillip Singleton and one in the Senate (SB 266) by Senator Marty Harbin. This legislation would ban any biological males from participating in biological female sports. This legislation got a hearing both in the House and the Senate and only passed out of committee in the Senate. However, it was not voted on in either chamber. This legislation is still alive for 2022.
Fourthly, there was the “Maternity Supportive Housing Act” (SB 116) by Randy Robertson. This legislation would have allowed Georgia churches and nonprofits to provide housing to mothers over the age of 18 who need supportive housing to care for their newborns. This free maternity supportive housing would have been made available for up to six pregnant moms and their children not only during pregnancy, but also up to 18 months postpartum. This legislation did pass the Senate but did not receive a hearing in the House. Again, this legislation is available to be moved upon in 2022.
Fifthly, there was the “Child Victim Protection Act” (HB 109) by Representative Heath Clark. This legislation is important because it allows survivors of child sexual abuse to file civil action upon entities that would have had a duty of care for them. As now the law reads, victims of child sexual abuse can only file civil suits up to the age of 23. Under the new legislation, the statute of limitations would be extended to 38 years old.
This legislation would also allow a “look back” to 1988 to hold entities accountable for when reporting was legally required by the state of Georgia. Civil action could be filed against an entity if the entity owed a duty of care to the victim, if the entity knew the abuse happened and allowed it to continue, and if the entity intentionally or fraudulently concealed information about the act that resulted in the victims trauma. This legislation passed out of the House 163 to zero, but the legislation did not receive a hearing in the Senate. This legislation therefore is still available to be voted on in 2022.
There were two very important pieces of pro-life legislation that were supported by the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.
The first was called “Gracie's Law” (HB 128) by Representative Rick Williams. This legislation was a simple measure to prohibit healthcare providers from discriminating against the physically or mentally disabled organ transplant recipient. The legislation also prohibited insurance companies from discriminating in the same way against organ transplant recipients based on mental or physical disabilities. The bill was named after Gracie Nobils who was born with Down Syndrome and had a heart defect but could not have received a heart transplant if it had been needed because of her mental/physical condition.
The second Legislation was entitled “Simon's Law” (HB 212) by Representative Kasey Carpenter. This legislation would require all health care providers to receive verbal parental consent before placing a do not resuscitate order on a child. This legislation was named after a baby boy named Simon Crosier, whose parents were not consulted before a DNR was placed on him and his parents wanted other parents to avoid the trauma that they experienced when this happened to them.
The good news is that this legislation regarding Gracie's Law passed both house and the Senate. The additional good news is that when Gracie’s Law was voted on in the Senate and Simon's Law was also amended to the bill and it passed as well.
There are two important bills that Governor Brian Kemp promoted regarding adoption laws.
One had to do with increasing Georgia’s adoption tax credit. HB114 by Representative Bert Reeves increases the tax credit for families that adopt a child from foster care from $2,000 to $6,000 per year for five years. The purpose of this bill was to make the process of placing foster children in loving homes an easier proposition and therefore increasing a better future for children.
The other legislation HB 154, by Representative Bert Reeves had to do with lowering the required age to adopt. The age at which an individual may adopt a child will be lowered from age 25 to 21 making it easier for close relatives to adopt children out of foster care. Information has shown us the children always do better in homes where they are cared for by family members who have their best interests at heart.
Both bills passed the state legislature.
Lastly, there were a couple of bills related to human trafficking that are worth our consideration.
The first one is Senate Bill 33, by Senator Clint Dixon, which has to do with a civil remedy for victims of human trafficking. This legislation will allow victims of human trafficking or state officials the ability to file civil suits seeking monetary damages against traffickers. This bill creates a 10-year statute of limitations from the date of the human trafficking offense or if the victim is a minor from the victim's 18th birthday.
Also, there was legislation that has to do with a name change exemption for survivors of human trafficking. This legislation (SB 34) by Senator Clint Dixon, would make it easier for victims of human trafficking to be able to change their name. This legislation would amend Georgia’s name change statue in order to provide privacy and safety of survivors of human trafficking who wish to have their names changed. it is important that we do all we can to make sure that those coming out the human trafficking industry are safe and successful in moving their lives forward in the future.
Thankfully, both bills passed the legislature!
As you can see it was a very busy legislative session as usual. Georgia Baptists were trying to monitor a lot of legislation that we could weigh in on. There was a lot of other legislation that dealt with issues facing our state, but these are just several of the top bills that we monitored and tried to support during the legislative process.
Thank you all for your support and prayers, your input is making a difference in our state.
Please stay tuned to the Christian Index, our Public Affairs Ministry website, and our social media outlets on Facebook and Twitter for more information. Also, you may sign up for Public Affairs emails and text alerts on the PA website.
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