State GOP girds its loins for a fight over 'religious liberty' bill

At 11 a.m. Friday in Athens, as delegates to the state GOP convention flow in, a 15-member resolution committee will close its doors and begin private deliberations over the various policy statements that will be placed before the larger body.

The issue is sure to come back next year. Gov. Nathan Deal, who will address delegates later in the afternoon, has said he wants to see anti-discrimination language inserted into the measure.

In today’s Athens Banner-Herald, a group calling itself Georgia Republicans for the Future have placed an ad calling for that. That's it on the right.

Mike Welsh of Augusta, chairman of the 12th District GOP, heads up this year’s resolution committee. He'll have prime say-so over whether delegates escape a floor fight over the issue on Saturday.

We're told that state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, sponsor of SB 129, is a member of the resolution committee, as is Virginia Galloway, a Capitol lobbyist for conservative issues who supports the legislation.

Many Republicans find themselves treading a fine line when it comes to religious liberty legislation.  State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, is among them. From an interview on 13MAZ in Macon:

"This has been a very difficult issue and one that's tough to address," Peake said. "I have a gay brother and I love him dearly and will love him 'til the day he dies, and I want to make sure that he never is discriminated against for his sexual orientation."

“But I also want to balance the fact that there are those who have a religious conviction that ought to allow to not be involved in an activity that would violate that religious conviction.”

Watch it here:

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Don't be surprised if downtown Atlanta traffic gets thicker than normal on Thursday morning.

Former President Bill Clinton is headlining the American Institute of Architects national convention  in Atlanta today. The theme will focus on how architects can influence their communities, and Clinton is set to talk for 40 minutes and then take about 20 minutes of questions from a moderator.

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Add Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio to the list of Republicans seeking the presidency who will be in Atlanta in August for the RedState Gathering, host Erick Erickson revealed today.

He blamed email oversight for not including Rubio on the original list of hopefuls who are likely defying the Iowa Straw Poll to be in Atlanta: Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal and Carly Fiorina.

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State Rep. Mike Jacobs will soon don the robes for his seat on the DeKalb County State Court. But it may not be easy for him to keep it.

There are two very different precedents that Jacobs and his critics have studied. Both also involve Jewish Republicans who sought public office in DeKalb.

The first is Jeff Brickman, a Republican appointed by Sonny Perdue to serve as the county's district attorney. He traveled the county stumping for votes in 2004, but was stomped by Democrat Gwen Keyes Fleming in the general election.

The second is Dax Lopez, whose chambers sit just down the hall from where Jacobs will work. Lopez built a careful coalition of Republicans and Democrats after Perdue appointed him to the DeKalb State Court bench in 2010, and he trounced his opponent in 2012.

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The U.S. House overwhelmingly passed an extension of the Patriot Act on Wednesday that would restrict the National Security Agency's spying powers, revealed in the Edward Snowden affair.

The Senate has until June 1 -- or really, the end of next week, ahead of a Memorial Day recess -- to pass something before the Patriot Act expires. The White House likes the House version. From National Journal:

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing to renew the Patriot Act without any changes, saying the NSA's bulk collection of records on millions of U.S. phone calls is critical for protecting national security. Republican Sen. Bob Corker said Wednesday morning that he is "shocked" at how little data the NSA collects.

"We're not taking up the House bill," Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, another defender of the NSA, told reporters Wednesday. "The program as designed is effective, and members are reluctant to change things that are effective just because of public opinion." ...

McConnell will force a vote on his bill for a clean reauthorization of the Patriot Act next week, Burr said. But he didn't rule out the possibility that USA Freedom Act supporters would be able to offer their bill as an amendment.

The Georgia delegation split on the issue, with most backing the extension with NSA reforms in the 338-88 vote. The Georgia nays were Reps. Tom Graves, R-Ranger; Jody Hice, R-Monroe; Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville; and John Lewis, D-Atlanta.

11:30 a.m Update: Graves and Woodall confirmed their opposition was based on the spying reforms not going far enough. From Woodall spokesman Martin Wattenbarger:

"Historically, Rob has opposed section 215 due to civil liberty concerns, and while yesterday’s bill addressed some of the issues, he still has those same concerns.  Also, this legislation essentially outlines another mechanism for what our existing search warrant process allows anyway."

Graves spokesman Garrett Hawkins sent this along:

"The USA Freedom Act was substantively similar to the amended version of the bill that Rep. Graves voted against last Congress. Rep. Graves believes the bill lacks adequate oversight and transparency safeguards concerning information gathering procedures. For instance, there’s no real check on the FISA court – no adversarial role or counterweight – and they approve the vast majority of the government’s requests. Bottom line: he acknowledges the tough balancing act between security and personal liberty, but Rep. Graves has always favored the side of personal liberty in this debate."

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The House also passed a "fetal pain" abortion bill Wednesday to ban the practice after 20 weeks, in the face of a presidential veto threat and opposition from groups such as Georgia Right to Life that did not want to allow exceptions for rape and incest.

The vote was almost precisely on party lines. Among the Georgians, Rep. Jody Hice, R-Monroe, voted "present," in a nod to his Georgia Right to Life pledge and endorsement. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, voted yes, meaning GRTL likely will revoke its endorsement.

The Georgia Life Alliance -- a pro-life group intended as a counterweight to GRTL and took its place as the state affiliate for National Right to Life -- sent out a press release offering praise by name to each member of the Georgia Republican delegation, except Hice.

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A group of U.S. senators introduced a medical marijuana bill Wednesday that seeks to do what Georgia's did to legalize epilepsy treatments with hemp oil at the federal level.

It's different from a House version we told you about recently because it allows the Food and Drug Administration more leeway to regulate the cannabidiol products, thus earning the support of U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. Said the state's senior senator in a press release:

“This legislation will ensure that families of children suffering from seizures have access to treatments that can provide them with a better quality of life. The legislation also removes federal barriers for Georgia families who want to bring the cannabis oil back to Georgia in order to administer medical treatment in the comfort of their own home. I’ve always been a supporter of research and innovation as a leading driver in finding new and improved treatment options for those affected by diseases and disorders.” 

The other original co-sponsors of the "Therapeutic Hemp Medical Access Act" are Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Colo.; Ron Wyden, D-Ore; Jeff Merkeley, D-Ore.; Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; and Michael Bennet, D-Colo.

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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.
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