Georgia leaders pull the plug on 'religious liberty' bill

Georgia's bid for a "religious liberty" measure has been on life support for days, but leaders pulled the plug on the legislation with just a few hours left in the legislative session.

Gov. Nathan Deal, who has repeatedly said he would support legislation that mirrored the 1993 law, signaled the debate has become too toxic. He said in an interview that supporters ensure that anti-discrimination language is in the measure next year if they want to earn his signature.

“That’s the most important thing. And that is a delicate thing to do," he said. "There's been so much hyperbole. It's hard to identify what can you say without saying too much, what can you say without saying too little, and what will people read into either version that you like.”

And House Speaker David Ralston told GPB's "Lawmakers" program late Thursday that the controversial legislation will resurface next year.

"We have a committee process and we have acted on that process. It just couldn't get out of committee ... I'm not going to have the House committee process subverted."

The legislation, Senate Bill 129, has been a constant undercurrent of the legislative session. Supporters describe it as a way to protect people of any religion from government interference. Opponents worry it could lead to discrimination against gays and lesbians and inspire frivolous lawsuits.

A version of the legislation was swiftly approved by Senate lawmakers, but it was tabled in the House after three Republicans joined with Democrats to add an anti-discrimination amendment. And the uproar over similar bills in Arkansas and Indiana, along with growing pushback from iconic Georgia businesses, seemed to seal its fate.

Both made clear, though, that the legislation would roar back to life next year.

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.