Bill Movements Last Week
Last week's major movement in state legislatures was Georgia's HB 757, a bill that sanctions discrimination based on religion, among other things. After sitting dormant for a week, House Republicans suddenly brought a newly rewritten bill up for a vote on March 16, leaving little time for those voting on the bill to even read it, let alone understand the bill’s implications. After an hour of debate, the bill ultimately passed 104-65, with one Independent and seven Republicans joining all the Democrats who voted against it. Because the House amended the bill, it was sent back over to the Senate. That same day, the Senate debated the bill, and after each amendment to improve the bill was voted out of order, the Senate approved the bill with a vote of 37-18. All 17 Democrats and one Republican opposed its passage. The fate of the bill is now in the hands of Governor Nathan Deal, who is now facing an increasingly vocal backlash from businesses, politicians, and celebrities. If you haven't already, you can write to the governor and ask him to veto the bill.
We have good news from Colorado. On March 16, the Colorado House Committee on State, Veterans and Military Affairs voted to indefinitely postpone consideration of HB 1180, a Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The bill was incredibly broad and could allow individuals—and even for-profit corporations—to discriminate, deny women healthcare, and otherwise harm others in the name of religion. As written, HB 1180 could have allowed an owner of a sandwich shop to refuse to serve a gay customer, a public hospital employee, whether the doctor, nurse, or the intake coordinator, to refuse to serve patients for procedures such as blood transfusions, in vitro fertilization, and mental health care or could have been used by a religious employer to trump employment discrimination laws and fire a woman who remarried after a divorce or who was pregnant and unmarried.
Alabama HB 130, a bill that would allow judges and clergy who are authorized to solemnize marriages in the state to refuse to perform the ceremony, was heard in committee this week. The House Judiciary Committee amended the bill so that judges who choose to perform marriages, must do so for everyone on an equal basis. This amended version was voted favorably out of the committee and passed out of the House committee on March 17. That same day, the House Health Committee voted favorably on HB 159, a bill that would allow healthcare providers to refuse to perform health care services if it violates their conscience. Both bills will now go to the House floor.
Tennessee law currently contains a list of everyone who is allowed to solemnize marriages in the state. HB 2379 would have drastically changed this list—eliminating everyone on the list except for clergy. If passed, anyone who wanted to get married in Tennessee would have to find a member of the clergy to solemnize their marriage. Fortunately, the House Civil Justice Subcommittee tabled the bill on March 16. As a result, the bill did not advance out of the committee.
Bills To Watch This Week
On Wednesday morning, the House Civil Justice Subcommittee will hold a hearing on HB 2375. This bill is a broad Pastor Protection Act. Generally such bills specify that the state may not require a religious leader or organization to solemnize marriages or provide services related to marriage ceremonies. This bill, however, could also allow commercial entities owned or run by religious organizations to refuse to provide any wedding related services to couples whose marriage conflicts with their religious beliefs.