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Legislative session ends, Gov. Deal vetoes ‘religious freedom’ bill

The 2016 Georgia Legislative Session adjourned last Friday in the early hours of the morning, with the FY 2017 budget being passed and a controversial bill already vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal.

House Bill 757, dubbed the “Religious Liberty” bill, gave churches and other faith-based organizations the legal right to decline business to those who have different religious beliefs.

The bill was met with strong criticism across the state from anti-discriminatory groups. The NFL even suggested it might consider other locations for future Super Bowls and Hollywood implied it would cease production of films in Georgia if the bill passed.

“HB 757 appeared in several forms during the 2016 legislative session,” said Deal in a press release. “I had no objection to the ‘Pastor Protection Act’ that was passed by the House of Representatives. The other versions of the bill, however, contained language that could give rise to state-sanctioned discrimination. I did have problems with that and made my concerns known as did many other individuals and organizations, including some within the faith-based community.”

Darlene Taylor, Representative of Georgia District 173, said she was disappointed in the veto.

“This bill, the Free Exercise Protection Act, is a good faith measure and the result of a lot of thoughtful debate by the members of both the House and the Senate,” Taylor said. “As the House studied and reviewed the bill, we as a body insisted that any measure we passed must not only protect the free exercise of all religions and faith-based organizations, but also had to include clear and distinct anti-discriminatory language. I believe this bill accomplishes this and invite you all to read the legislation.”

Taylor said the difficulty behind legislation such as this is finding where one person’s rights stop and someone else’s begins. HB 757 would have given Georgians the same measure of legal protection on the state level that they have at the Federal level, she added.

The FY 2017 budget was passed by both houses and totals $24.7 billion. The budget includes new transportation appropriations of $655 million, the bulk of which is due to last year’s Transportation Funding Act that changed the gasoline tax in Georgia. Around $157 million from the $5 hotel/motel fee will also go toward transportation throughout the state.

The budget also includes 3 percent cost of living adjustments for teachers, school bus drivers, school nutrition employees and school nurses. State employees will also see a 3 percent raise.