Commentary: A Georgia Baptist legislative report on the 2024 session


This was my 17th year working at the Georgia Capitol on legislation dealing with social and moral issues. This year had the most issues I have ever dealt with. And there were a lot of ups and downs when it came to this kind of legislation.

As Georgia Baptists, we were monitoring a lot of legislation through the two-year cycle that started in 2023. We were monitoring up to 55 bills dealing with subjects such as the sanctity of life, religious freedom, gambling, child protection, and alcohol expansion.

We were also monitoring at least 19 bills over the last two weeks of the 2024 legislative session. Many of these bills, while they had passed out of one chamber before crossover, did not get voted on by the last day of the session.

Some of the bills that we supported and some that we opposed were added to other legislation in committee or on the floor of one of the chambers. There were times when it got confusing as to where bills were in the legislative process!

So, with that in mind, I want to give you a summary of some of the most important bills we monitored through the 2024 legislative session.


Further Abortion Restrictions

As many of you know the Georgia Supreme Court ruled in favor of the constitutionality of the 2019 Heartbeat Law. There is the possibility that there still could be more pending litigation, but we are thankful that in Georgia we are pressing forward to save as many lives as possible in a culture that is not maintaining the highest pro-life standard.

The Abortion Pill

Just recently the United States Supreme Court heard a case regarding the use of the abortion pill. This court case was a result of a lawsuit filed in federal court in Texas that has the potential to restrict abortion pills nationwide.

In Georgia, there has already been an attempt to restrict the use of the abortion pill through legislation but none of it passed the legislature. We will not know the result of the federal case until sometime in the summer when the Supreme Court will rule on the validity of abortion pill use in the future.

Baby Box “Safe Surrender” Legislation

HB 1030, which was authored by Clint Crowe, was intended to add to the “Safe Place for Newborns Act of 2002.” The original law allowed for a medical facility, fire station, or police station to accept a newborn child by posting a sign within or outside of such facility.

The new law would have allowed a safety device (“baby box”) to be placed at that location where a newborn baby could be placed, providing that the newborn child was no more than 30 days old. This legislation had a hearing in the House Public Health Committee but did not get a vote.

This would have been another step in making sure that even babies who are not wanted outside of the womb would have had another layer of protection!

Human Development Education for Public Schools

HB 1036 was authored by Rep Lauren Daniel. If passed into law, it would have required public high school students to take a course detailing human development in the womb, including a high-definition ultrasound or animation depicting such development. This kind of legislation would have enabled students to understand the reality of the humanity of unborn children, which is key to having a state that recognizes and values life at every stage of that development.

This bill was added to HB 298 in the Senate Education and Youth Committee and passed out of committee but did not make it to the Senate for a vote on the final day of the session.

Religious Freedom

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)

As it came down to the final two days of the legislative session, we were mainly focused on supporting legislation such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) ,SB 180, authored by Sen. Ed Setzler. The RFRA had already been approved by the Senate but never got a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee in order to make to the House floor for a vote.

We were hoping that there was a possibility that the bill could have been amended to other legislation to be voted on by midnight on the 40th day. It did not happen.

This bill is VERY important because it provides people of faith the same protections from state and local government actions that they now have from federal government actions. We have been working in the state legislature for almost 10 years to get this protection passed for Georgia.

Here is a short video of the RFRA portion of a presentation at the 2024 Georgia Baptist Pastors Day by Matt Sharp, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom. You see, RFRA restores the original intent of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Going forward to 2025, we as Georgia Baptists MUST stand up for religious freedom in our country, if for no other reasons than for the promotion of missions and evangelism.

You see, RFRA restores the original intent of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This original intent serves as an encouragement for churches to press on for evangelism and missions. Our stand for religious freedom is a part of our responsibility as American citizens to keep promoting the Gospel in the public square!

While many opposing this legislation accuse the RFRA of being discriminatory, it is simply not true. This legislation is not about protecting any discrimination. A RFRA protects people of faith from government intrusion and being forced to violate their First Amendment right of conscience. It restores the original intent of what the First Amendment in the US Constitution is all about.

It also restores to people of faith the same high standard of rights as seen, for example, in freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly. See the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Resolution on Protecting Religious Liberty approved in 2014:

Protecting Religious Assembly in States of Emergency (PRAISE Act)

Another piece of important religious freedom legislation was the PRAISE Act, HB 925, which was authored by Rep. Steven Sainz. The bill prohibits any governmental entity from discriminating against and closing a place of worship during a state emergency.

As many of you remember, during the time of COVID, many churches in America were being discriminated against when it came to mandatory shutdowns. There was one case where casinos could be opened up to 50% capacity, but churches were limited to only 50 persons present. That is ridiculous!

Thankfully we have a governor like Brian Kemp, who never mandated that churches close during the pandemic state of emergency. But going forward we don’t know who the next governor will be and what might be required under different leadership. This legislation that was passed by both chambers (while amended to another bill) will help ensure that churches will not be treated improperly.

This bill did pass on another piece of legislation on the 40th day!


Once again it is amazing at the amount of gambling legislation that has been introduced over the past two years. If you include both the House and Senate chambers, there have been at least 12 gambling bills. I will highlight some of them:

Sports Betting

First, Sen. Client Dixon introduced SB 386. This bill would have added sports betting to the Georgia Lottery. It started out as legislation that would not require a constitutional amendment, but that condition was added on the floor of the Senate and voted out as enabling legislation that would require a constitutional amendment.

This legislation was questioned from the outset regarding the legality of passing gambling without a constitutional amendment. Also, it can’t be that it was ever the intent of Georgia's citizens to enable such gambling activities such as sports betting when they approved the lottery in 1992.

Secondly, Sen. Bill Cowsert sponsored legislation (SR 579) that would have provided a constitutional amendment for the enabling legislation of SB 386. This legislation, unlike the enabling legislation, would have to have a two-thirds majority of the Senators to vote in favor of it. Therefore, the purpose of this legislation would have been to put sports betting on the November ballot as a new constitutional amendment to the Georgia Constitution if also approved by a two-thirds vote in the House.

Both of these bills passed the Senate with support and went over to the House and were assigned to the Higher Education Committee. They received at least four hearings and were finally voted out of the Higher Education Committee with substitute versions to the Rules Committee on the final day of the session.

The good news is that neither bill was ever brought to the floor of the House for a vote. That means that once again sports betting was stopped dead in its tracks!

Thank you to all of you who prayed and contacted their legislators to ask them to oppose any state-sponsored predatory gambling like sports betting!

Daily Fantasy Sports Gambling

HB 1329 was authored by Rep Ron Stephens. This legislation was an attempt to legalize what proponents say is already being played in Georgia and is from one point of view already legal. The most common argument supporting it, which goes back to around 2016 when it was first introduced, is that it is a game of “skill.”

The fact of the matter is that daily fantasy sports meet all of the requirements of the fundamental definition of gambling in our state law. It has consideration (the player wagers money), prize (the player wins cash prizes), and chance (there must be at least enough variance that an inexperienced bettor can win the prize). This is the same definition used in Georgia Law to determine what constitutes gambling. This also clearly constitutes a “bet” within the meaning of O.C.G.A. 16-12-20(1)

This bill had a hearing in the Tourism and Economic Development Committee, and was passed on to the Rules Committee, but never made it to the floor for a vote.

Coin Operated Amusement Machines Class B (COAM’s)

This year again, the legislature sought to bring legislation that would help better regulate this dangerous industry. HB 353, sponsored by Rep. Alan Powell, was legislation that was left over from last year’s session. It was amended in the House and added once again that gift cards be awarded as winnings for these machines.

While we support tighter regulations on COAM Class B machines, we do not support creating incentives to encourage more people to play them. Although these machines are technically not classified as gambling, they are often viewed as such and can be addictive and destructive to those who use them.

The bad news is that while the Senate took out the gift cards last year, this year they agreed to the House amendment that added them back in and passed it on the last day of the session.

Bingo Machine Legalization

HB 473 was authored by Rep. Buddy DeLoach for the purpose of authorizing  local governments to operate bingo-based machine games to offset reduced tax collections that result from the ownership by the State of Georgia of large amounts of forest lands. Therefore, this bill was only for legalizing the machines under certain circumstances.

While bingo has been legalized in Georgia for the purpose of raising money for non-profits, the problem with this kind of bingo is that it resembles the same type of gambling that is legal in the Alabama Indian casinos. These same types of machines were outlawed in Alabama through their Supreme Court (2022) for use outside of Indian casinos. It was said that they do not meet the legal requirements as “in person” card games, and there was concern about that same standard in Georgia being upheld.

This bill had a hearing and passed to the House Rules committee but did not have a vote. It was also amended to at least 2 other pieces of legislation but did not pass both chambers.

Child Protection Legislation

 As always, one of the top priorities of Georgia Baptists is legislation concerning child protection. Children are one of the most vulnerable groups of people in our nation. We're living in a day when children are suffering the most from societal ills that are facing our culture.  

This year we were monitoring up to 23 bills dealing with some facet of child protection. The legislation had to do with a wide range of issues from access to technology, AI child pornography, library regulations, sexually explicit performances, public school privacy areas, human trafficking, protecting girls' sports, public school chaplains, online pornography restrictions, grooming exploitation, social media regulation, public school sex education restrictions, public school obscenity protection, puberty blockers regulation and foster care requirements.

As it came down to the last 12 days of the legislative session, we were working on supporting a number of measures that had some of the 23 types of bills we were in favor of. Here are some examples:

Protecting Georgia’s Children on Social Media Act

SB 351 was authored by  Jason Anavitarte. This bill was set to impact young Georgians' access to social media. Under this legislation, users under the age of 16 would require parental permission to create social media accounts. Social media companies would also be limited in their ability to collect information from and advertise to these children. It is important to ensure the safety and privacy of young Georgians online.

This was also amended with HB 910, a bill authored by Rep Rick Jasperse. This legislation aims to safeguard our children from the dangers of internet pornography and ensure their innocence is preserved. It mandates stringent age verification on websites displaying pornographic content. By holding adult content publishers accountable and implementing effective age verification measures, this bill will significantly reduce underage exposure to harmful material.

We are thankful that these two bills came together and were passed by both chambers on the 40th day.

Student Technology Protection Act

HB 338, by Rep. Chris Irwin, was designed to include methods for promoting safe and appropriate use of technology devices in education programs. “Technology protection measure” means a technology that inspects and analyzes unencrypted internet traffic for malware and that blocks or filters electronic access to obscene materials, child pornography, or material that is harmful to minors.

We are thankful that this legislation was introduced last year and passed both chambers this year for approval.

Felony Charge for Grooming

HB 993 was authored by Rep. Alan Powell and makes the grooming of a minor for sexual exploitation a felony offense. This bill is simply closing the loopholes in the prior law that have allowed perpetrators to go without prosecution.  It attempts to tighten up the language to close loopholes and adds language to address the typical way adults would exploit a child for sexual behavior.

We are very thankful that this bill passed both chambers with overwhelming support. This is important legislation in helping our work as Georgia Baptist when it comes to child sex abuse prevention policy.

Banning Puberty Blockers for Minors

HB 1170 was authored by Sen. Lee Hawkins. This bill was substituted with an amendment requested by Sen. Ben Watson in the Senate Health and Human Service Committee. It was for the purpose of prohibiting the use of puberty blockers for the transitioning of minors and strengthening Georgia’s current statute protecting kids from radical “gender transition” surgeries and chemicals.

It would have been added to previous legislation that limited surgeries and hormone replacement therapies that have irreversible effects for gender dysphoria on minors. We are disappointed that after the Senate passed the legislation on the 40th day, the House did not take up the bill for a vote.

Protecting Children’s Safety

HB 1104 was originally authored by Rep. Omari Crawford for the purpose of protecting athletes’ mental health in public schools.

In the Senate Education Committee, this bill was amended by Sen Client Dixion to add a number of protections for children such as Parent Library Notification for Minors (based of legislation like SB 365), Sex Education Requirements for Children 5th Grade and Under (based off of legislation like SB 532), Protections for Girls Sports (based off of legislation like HB 1128) and Bathroom privacy and Safety (based off of legislation like HB 1104).

This bill passed the committee and the Senate chamber on the 40th day but was not taken up by the House for a final vote. Therefore, this legislation failed.

Foster Care Requirements Revision

SB 376 authored by Sen. Blake Tillery clarifies the requirements of parents, DFCS, and court in order to improve timely permanent placement of a child removed from their home. It also provides for a hearing to be held prior to a dependent child's fifteenth month in foster care. This bill passed both chambers to be considered as law for Georgia.


 Along with gambling, Georgia Baptists have always opposed any expansion of alcohol sales. Our latest resolution dealing with alcohol was passed by the Georgia Baptist Convention in 2022. See the resolution here:

In that resolution, the fact is emphasized that the availability of alcohol leads to the increased sales of alcohol and that the increased sales of alcohol leads to increased consumption of alcohol and that the increased consumption of alcohol leads to an increase in the potential societal problems associated with the increased use of alcohol…”

 Since the legislative cycle began in 2023, we have opposed at least six alcohol-related bills. This legislation has ranged from accepting exemptions to the three-tier system related to craft breweries, extension of delivery distances for alcohol, the expansion of opportunities to sell alcohol on Sundays and allowing discounted sales of alcoholic beverages.

Thankfully, these bills on alcohol expansion did not pass during this legislative cycle.


 As I close out, I want to remind you that all legislation passed by the legislature that is not a constitutional amendment can be vetoed by the governor or signed into law by him. So, the full assessment of this legislation will not be known until 40 days after the legislative session.

 You can see there has been a lot of legislation to observe over the past two years. Once again, as Georgia Baptists, we have been privileged to be supportive of more legislation that passed, than what we were against. We are very thankful that sports betting was stopped, and we will be optimistic about getting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) passed in the near future!

Thank you so much for all your prayers and support as the Georgia Baptist Public Affairs Ministry worked on public policy for the cause of Christ. 


Mike Griffin is the Public Affairs Representative of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.