Kasim Reed warns religious liberty bill will bring 'terrible harm' to Atlanta business

Some 16 hours past the Legislature’s sudden passage of a bill intended to shield religious conservatives from the impact of same-sex marriage, Georgia business leaders have begun begging for a signal from Gov. Nathan Deal as to his intentions.

Georgia’s top corporations  – Delta, Home Depot and such – have yet to weigh in. But the Georgia Hotel & Lodging Association, a guardian of the state’s convention and tourism industry, sent out this note last night, giving Deal at least a little breathing space:

“We acknowledge this has been a contentious debate and we appreciate the House and Senate doing their best to address the concerns of their constituents,” said Jim Sprouse, GHLA’s executive director. “We are concerned that what began as a conscientious effort to protect our state's pastors has become something much more dramatic that could adversely impact Georgia as a top state in which to do business.

“We urge Georgia's best legal minds to examine the impact — both intended and otherwise — of this legislation.”

The governor has until May 3 to decide whether to sign the legislation, raising the prospect of seven weeks of heavy, highly publicized lobbying by all sides.

Already, Marc Benioff, the Salesforce chief executive who led the charge against Indiana’s religious liberty bill, said he had his team do an overnight review of Georgia’s measure. His brief take: “Once again, Georgia is trying to pass laws that make it legal to discriminate. When will this insanity end?”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who has long opposed the measure, told our AJC colleague Scott Trubey he was "inundated" with calls about the measure from local and national business leaders on Wednesday night.  He said they were universally "stunned" that lawmakers would adopt the legislation given the fallout over a similar proposal in Indiana.

"I can't express the amount of damage that is being done to Atlanta and Georgia's reputation as the business center and cultural center of the Southeast," said Reed, a former state senator. "I'm trying to be very respectful of my colleagues in the Legislature, but I'm not going to pretend that this bill or the amendments to the bill will mitigate the terrible harm that is being done to our city, our region, our state by this legislation."

Here's the statement Reed's office put out later in the day. The mayor didn't use the word "veto," but it's clear where he stands:

“I am deeply disappointed that the Georgia Legislature passed HB 757. This measure is unprecedented in that it codifies employment discrimination and other types of discrimination as a ‘right’. This legislation will irreparably damage our economy and diminish the City of Atlanta’s standing as the business and cultural center of the Southeast.

HB 757 impairs our ability to recruit major corporate headquarters, startups, small and medium-sized businesses. Nearly every corporate, non-profit, academic leader and entrepreneur I’ve spoken with is concerned that its passage will harm their client relationships and their ability to hire world-class talent in Atlanta.

As one of the five most visited cities in the United States, I am also gravely concerned about the negative impact this legislation has on the City of Atlanta’s ability to compete for conventions and major events such as the Super Bowl, which will be worth billions to our economy in the future.

HB 757 does not represent or uphold our city’s rich history of diversity and inclusion. This bill should not become the law of our state.”


On the other side of the coin, the state Republican Party stepped out ahead of Governor Deal, who had previously voiced concern over HB 757, with praise for GOP lawmakers who lined up behind the measure. From the press release issued late Thursday:

"During our 2015 State Convention in Athens, Georgia Republicans overwhelmingly passed a resolution in support of the Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act," said Georgia Republican Party Chairman John Padgett.

"Under the Gold Dome, Republican leadership and members of the General Assembly have worked tirelessly to craft legislation that protects people of faith without sanctioning discrimination of any kind. This compromise bill does just that. HB 757 is appropriate, fair, and good for Georgia.

"We applaud and thank state lawmakers for listening to grassroots Republicans and for working together to pass this vitally important piece of legislation before Sine Die."


In the hour that the House spent debating HB 757 on Thursday, the opposition speech by state Rep. Karla Drenner, who was the state’s first openly gay member of the Legislature, was by far the most emotional. Look for it to be cited many times in the coming days. A portion:


In 2004, in search of a two-thirds majority to pass a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, religious conservatives were able to successfully peel off a number of Democrats. While religious conservatives won again on Thursday with passage of HB 757, the vote in both chambers was a display of changing dynamics on the issue.

The defectors in the highly partisan votes were Republicans, plus one independent, who went to the other side. In the Senate, the sole GOP lawmaker who opposed passage was Sen. JaNice VanNess, R-Conyers, who faces tough opposition in a Democratic-leaning district.

The list in the House was longer:

-- Beth Beskin, R-Atlanta;

-- Rich Golick, R-Smyrna;

-- Gerald E Greene, R-Cuthbert;

-- "Rusty" Kidd, I – Milledgeville;

-- Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta;

-- B.J. Pak, R-Lilburn;

-- Allen Peake, R – Macon;

-- John Pezold, R – Fortson;

-- Tom Taylor, R-Dunwoody;

-- Joe Wilkinson, R-Atlanta;

-- and Chuck Williams, R-Watkinsville.


Even before passage of HB 757, the Georgia Baptist Mission Board wasn’t about to fire its lobbyist, Mike Griffin, for likening the current political atmosphere to the one in Germany, when Adolf Hitler was about to seize power. On Wednesday, the state Baptist executive committee passed a resolution of support that included this:

Whereas, on Thursday, March 10, 2016, members of the House of Representatives, including several Georgia Baptists, mischaracterized Mike Griffin and his March 4 Index article and rebuked him from the well of the House of Representatives of the Georgia General Assembly, leading to significant criticism of him in social media, on WSB-TV, and in multiple articles in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Baptist News Global (a CBF-funded news service);

Now, therefore, be it resolved that the Executive Committee meeting on Tuesday, March 15, 2016 affirms its unwavering support for the work of Pastor Mike Griffin as our Public Affairs Representative and of our Executive Director/CEO Dr. J. Robert White, for his capable oversight of our public affairs office….


Ohio Gov. John Kasich's Georgia campaign didn't mince words when it came to Thursday's post of a plan to draft a third-party alternative to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. This counterargument came from Billy Kirkland, a former David Perdue aide tapped to head Kasich's Georgia operation. It offers a glimpse into the Ohioan's future campaign strategy:

* There will be an open convention, something we haven’t seen in a generation. After the first two ballots most delegates are released form their original obligations to a specific candidate.

* The delegates will have the responsibility of unifying a majority and nominating the best candidate to beat Hillary in November.

* The GOP has ten times had conventions in which no candidate came into the convention with a majority of delegates.

* History shows us that conventions nominate the candidate most likely to win in November (not Cruz)

* The point of an open convention is to produce a nominee acceptable to Republicans nationwide and who can win the general election. That candidate is Governor Kasich.


Nearly every member of Georgia’s House delegation joined an effort to pressure the lawmakers closest to Congress’ purse strings to boost federal funding for the Savannah Harbor expansion project.

Thirteen of Georgia’s 14 House members wrote to the leaders of the chamber’s Appropriations subcommittee that oversees funding for the Army Corps of Engineers to ask for at least $80 million for the project, known as SHEP. (Roswell Republican Tom Price sat out.)

SHEP boosters were livid when the president’s proposal for the fiscal 2017 budget year that begins Oct. 1 asked Congress for $42.7 million for the upcoming year. That’s about half of the money proponents say the $706 million project needs annually to stay on schedule and on budget. From the letter:

"If the rate of SHEP's construction were to continue at the rate reflected in the FY 2017 request, the completion of SHEP would be delayed by at least five years and (Army Corps of Engineers) estimates that the delay would add well over $100 million to the project construction cost. Combined with the multi-year loss of the $174 million in annual economic benefits, the total cost of under-funding SHEP is a staggering and unrecoverable loss of nearly $1 billion."

Corps officials said last month that their $42.7 million proposal reflected what’s affordable given current funding restraints.

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that...