Having served at the Georgia State Capitol as a lobbyist for 15 years, I believe this was the best year ever for getting good legislation across the finish line. See 40th Day video: https://fb.watch/cckJlHdjcJ/
One of things that Georgia Baptists want to be known for is not what we are against, but what we are for! This year we were for more legislation than we were against!
This year we were monitoring at least 27 bills covering 18 legislative subjects. Out of those 18 subjects, we were supporting 13 of those areas of legislation. I think with all that has been going on in the past two years that this is BIG news!
Here are some of the top bills that were passed and supported by Georgia Baptists:
Maternity Supportive Housing
This bill SB 116, known as “Betsy’s Law,” was authored by Sen. Randy Robertson. Building a culture of life means protecting life in the womb while promoting a society that empowers pregnant moms in crisis to confidently choose life for their unborn children as well as combating the high maternal mortality rate in our state. Betsy’s Law accomplishes that end by cutting through the cumbersome red tape and government regulations to allow non-profit organizations (including churches) to offer maternity supportive housing to pregnant and new mothers over the age of 18. This legislation would provide free maternity supportive housing for up to six pregnant moms and up to 18 months postpartum. This would help on our focus of Pre/Post Natal Care with Mission Georgia. It’s important that the church must step up to this challenge as we see the possibility of Roe vs Wade overturned!
Appeals Process for School Library Obscenity
SB 226, authored by Sen. Jason Anavitarte, ensures that our children are protected from sexually explicit material. Georgia Baptists support legislation that allows a proper appeal process when parents see material that is obscene. We must have laws that provide more transparency for and power to parents while at the same time ridding our schools of obscene materials. This legislation ensures that parents’ complaints about obscene materials can no longer be hid by administrators or school officials. It shines the spotlight of transparency on the public school system. It is very important that we do all we can in protecting students from the sexualization of early exposure to obscene materials. The last thing we need is our school system participating in the grooming process of immorality, sexual predators, and human trafficking!
Parents Bill of Rights
SB 449 was one of two pieces of legislation that reinforced the rights of parents to inquire about activities in our public schools. Rep. Josh Bonner’s bill was passed during the legislative session. This bill codifies parental rights when it comes to their child's education. The bill starts out with a very basic principle that all Christians would find in line with Scripture: “The General Assembly finds that it is a fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their minor children. The General Assembly further finds that important information relating to a minor child should not be withheld, either inadvertently or purposefully, from his or her parent, including information relating to the minor child’s education …” One of the basics of this law includes the right of parents or guardians to have access to instructional material. The bill affirms a parent's ability to request information from a principal or superintendent and requires that they provide the requested information within three working days. All Georgia Baptists can all be happy that this legislation passed the Georgia General Assembly!
Ban on Teaching Divisive Concepts
HB 1084 by Rep. Will Wade was one of two bills that was introduced to the legislature to ban the teaching on such things as Critical Race Theory in public schools. Georgia Baptists agree that it is important that our children know that they are all “image bearers,” and they should not be made to feel ashamed of who they are and be distrustful of their neighbor. Children do not need to feel as though they are inherently oppressed or inherently oppressors based on their race. This bill in no way discourages the teaching of historical facts and the truth related problems to our history that were wrong and related to racism and hatred. But no child should ever be taught that the color of their skin defines them. Children should not be limited to their race or made to feel guilty for the actions of others. We cannot allow indoctrination that divides our country, produces more racial strife, and teaches an anti-American worldview to our children.
Save Girls Sports
HB 1084 was also amended by the House on the 40th day to include language that would address the concerns of protecting girls’ sports from having biological males competing in their athletic events. The amendment empowers athletic associations like the Georgia High School Association to designate athletic competitions on the basis of gender and protect girls’ sports. We anticipate the GHSA will use this authority to designate competitions on the basis of gender.
While this amendment does not fully implement SB 435 (The Save Girls Sports Act) sponsored by Senator Marty Harbin, it is a move in the right direction. It is important that we as a state affirm God’s design of human beings and take a stand against radical agendas that are undermining the opportunities for Georgia girls in our state.
Free Speech on College Campuses
HB 1, known as the “Forum Act” (Forming Open and Robust University Minds), was introduced by Rep. Josh Bonner. This is important legislation because Georgia Baptists are represented in approx. 42 college campuses throughout the state through our Baptist Collegiate Ministry. In relationship to this legislation, we believe that a student’s First Amendment rights are not dropped at the door when they enter our government schools of higher learning. We think that it is good to have policies in place that add that extra assurance that all students will enjoy the highest free speech protection allowed under the U.S. Constitution. This bill protects students on our college campuses regarding their freedom of speech. It eliminates things like “free speech zones.” It protects the right of all people to engage in lawful expression and it requires that administrators, campus police, etc. understand their duties regarding free expression on campus.
Mental Health Legislation
HB 1013, initiated by Speaker David Ralston and sponsored by Rep. Todd Jones and Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, is a bill that seeks to do things like, expand insurance coverage for those with mental health issues, provide greater coordination, enhance workforce development (59 of Georgia’s 159 counties do not have mental health professionals), and take various steps to make it easier to get help for someone with mental health challenges. Georgia Baptists agreed that this is important and needed legislation that all Georgians could greatly benefit from. Some very good amendments were added by the Senate. The Senate removed from the bill coverage mandates, changed definitions, and added conscience protections that can be applied to churches and 501-C’s. We can all be thankful for so many legislators on both sides of the aisle who worked so hard to perfect this legislation!
NO Expansion of Gambling
Last, but not least, there was a BIG WIN for something that did NOT pass this year at the Capitol – gambling legislation! There were approx. nine bills leftover from the 2021 session that were available to be acted upon that would have expand some form of gambling in our state such as Sports Betting, Horse Racing and Casinos. An attempt to pass two of the Horse Racing bills failed to get enough votes in the Senate, which requires a 2/3 majority. Then the House attempted to amend 2 Senate Sports Betting Bill that were passed last year, with substitute language that would have removed ALL prohibitions on any gambling in the state. These bills were again amended in the House Rules Committee to just legalize Sports Betting. Both failed to be passed out of the Rules Committee in order to get a vote on the House floor by the 40th day!
Bottomline: For at least eight years in a row, we have been able to stop ALL gambling expansion legislation in the Georgia General Assembly! This can only be attributed to God’s convicting power and grace!
I want to thank each of you who played a part in praying and contacting your legislators at the Georgia State Capitol! There is no way I could make the difference that I do for Georgia Baptists, if it were not for Georgia Baptists getting engaged with the legislative process on a grassroots level! It’s an honor to serve you in the legislature!
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