LaGRANGE — Three of four area Republican state legislators felt the governor acted under political pressure to veto the religious liberty bill, and that the attention it brought was unwarranted.
State House Rep. Randy Nix said he was the second to sign the original bill, envisioned to protect pastors from being forced to perform gay marriages or punish churches that taught traditional marriage, which he called “benign.” The later changes from the Senate, which he also was the second signer on, proved to be more controversial when it expanded who could refuse service based on religious objections.
State Sen. Josh McKoon said there was a lot of misinformation about the bill. He criticized Gov. Nathan Deal’s veto decision being based on the concern it was bad for business. McKoon said other states who passed similar legislation have even seen new economic prospects.
Sen. Mike Crane alluded to the decision during a discussion of legislative ethics and reform.
“We perpetrate a system that is broken, and I call it vending machine politics, where those who put in enough money and apply enough pressure, like the NFL, big corporations that don’t like the concept of religious liberty or freedom of expression at all,” influence the decisions, Crane said.” But these folks are allowed to apply enough pressure to a legislative or executive body that will yield to that pressure in absence of being truthful and faithful to their constitutional work. That’s a challenge and we need to correct that.”
The bill’s language did leave room for people to extrapolate “hypothetical scenarios … to take the discussion somewhere else” as ways to argue against it, McKoon said. For the upcoming session, he feels a more general bill stating the federal government cannot supersede state law.
State Rep. John Pezold said he was one of only 10 Republicans to vote against the religious freedom bill.
“I certainly support private businesses conducting all their business as they see fit; I certainly don’t want a government bureaucrat telling me who I must and must not hire or who I must or must not fire,” Pezold said. “The main issue I had with that legislation is that if you are a nonprofit organization and you accept one cent in government funds, I think all bets are off the table. If someone is an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans-sexual) citizen that is paying their taxes, which is then going to fund that nonprofit, then that nonprofit should not be able to discriminate against that person.”
Pezold said he understood many people may disagree with him, but he sticks to his decision.
Legislators also spoke about the vetoed campus carry bill. Pezold said the governor’s office was not “above board” with the governor’s decision, noting that the office will typically become involved in the discussions of any big legislation, but didn’t raise any concerns over the bill until it was on the governor’s desk. At that point, it was too late to make any changes.
McKoon said he hopes the legislature will pass a “robust” gun law during its next session.
Other topics addressed included education laws, like getting the referendum on the November ballot for the Georgia State Intervention in Failing Public Schools Amendment. If passed, it would allow the state to create special districts encompassing failing districts in an effort to improve them.
Matthew Strother is the editor of LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2153.