Georgia Legislature talks about sex, whatever that means

Staff writers Janel Davis, Jeremy Redmon, Brad Schrade, Aaron Gould Sheinin and Kristina Torres contributed to this article.

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It should surprise few that sex can come with complications – even more so when legislators and judges get involved.

Take the case of House Bill 849, a piece of legislation sponsored by state Rep. Rich Golick, R-Smyrna, that would bar discrimination in hotels, restaurants and theaters on the basis of race, religion or national origin. State Rep. Taylor Bennett, D-Brookhaven, tried both Monday and Tuesday to amend the bill to also include protections on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age and veteran status.

Both attempts failed. The first fell short when opponents dug a little deeper in the House rule book, bringing in three nonmembers of a Judiciary subcommittee to vote 6-4 against the amendment. The next day, when the full Judiciary Committee considered the bill, Bennett apparently lacked the votes to approve his amendment, partly because at least one Democrat was a meeting no-show.

At that point, state Rep. Beth Beskin stepped in. The Republican from Atlanta offered an amendment to only add sex to the list of protected categories under the bill. It passed 8-5.

And here’s where it gets complicated: It’s not entirely clear what sex means. Federal courts, in limited cases, have interpreted sex as a protected class to also mean sexual orientation.

State Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, who opposed Bennett's amendment, said he plans to study up on sex and protection – the court kind – before HB 849 hits the House floor for a vote.

‘Religious liberty’

remains a big draw

The issue of “religious liberty” continues to draw crowds.

The biggest one, so far, gathered across from the Capitol on Wednesday to hear evangelist Franklin Graham. It more than filled Liberty Plaza, which can hold in excess of 3,000 people.

Graham, the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, didn’t speak directly about any of at least eight religious liberty bills now before the General Assembly. What he did talk about was what he called the “sins of our nation.” They included abortion, same-sex marriage, pride, materialism, racism and not caring for the poor. And then he focused on public restrooms, saying that to allow transgender people to use the facilities designated for the sex they identify with is “wicked.”

Backers of religious liberty bills cast them as a new line of defense to protect people of any religion from interference or discrimination. Opponents warn it’s a discriminatory end run around the First Amendment that in some cases would explicitly allow business owners to deny service to gays, lesbians and others on religious grounds.

Supporting the latter position was a smaller crowd of about 200 that rallied at the Capitol the day before Graham's appearance.

One other crowd, of a sort, has also weighed in on religious liberty. Nearly 300 companies, including AT&T, Google and Home Depot, have joined in opposition to the legislation. The businesses, citing studies by the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, say turning the bills into law could have a negative economic impact of $1 billion to $2 billion.

Bill would change how

grand juries treat cops

Georgia police officers who face possible criminal charges in shooting cases would no longer benefit from the same level of legal privileges that now exist if the General Assembly passes legislation that was introduced Tuesday.

Currently, officers facing the possibility of indictment are allowed to sit in the grand jury room during the entire process, hear all the evidence against them and make a closing statement at the end without facing cross-examination.

No other state offers such protections, and critics say those privileges have helped officers avoid prosecution in questionable shooting cases. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation last year found that of 184 fatal police shooting cases since 2010, no officer had been prosecuted.

House Bill 941, sponsored by state Rep. Rich Golick, R-Smyrna, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers, calls for big changes. No longer would officers be allowed to be in the grand jury room during the entire proceeding and hear all the evidence against them. Plus, if they choose to make a statement, those officers would also be subject to questioning by prosecutors and grand jurors.

Golick said the current law allows for the possibility of manipulating the grand jury process.

“Not saying that has happened; not saying it hasn’t happened,” he said. “But you can’t deny that potential exists under current law.”

Things could get real

for fantasy sports

It may not be as good as getting Julio Jones in your lineup, but state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, wants to provide "consumer protection" for the players of daily fantasy sports.

Unterman's proposal, Senate Bill 352, would set standards for operations and pay-outs. And it would require companies that have players in Georgia to register, paying an initial $50,000 fee, with a $10,000 fee to re-up annually. The money would go toward state education programs, including the Hope scholarship.

That may sound expensive, but companies such as FanDuel and DraftKings count an estimated 1.5 million Georgia residents as part of their clientele, Unterman says.

SB 352 would also make sure none of those players are under age 18. The bankroll Junior’s saved for college shouldn’t be dependent on the shaky knees of an aging running back.

Unterman’s bill also makes a distinction between daily fantasy sports and gambling — something Georgia bans other than in lottery games and slotlike machines known as coin-operated amusement machines.

“This is a game of skill, that you are actually following and researching the players and teams, versus just going in and plopping down $3 for a lottery ticket and the computer generates the numbers,” Unterman said.

FanDuel and DraftKings make the same claim in seeking an exemption from a federal online gambling prohibition.

If you're a betting man — or, shall we say, a skillful observer of the mechanics of legislation — the Georgia Legislative Navigator last week set the odds of SB 352 passing at 35 percent. It also considers Unterman a clutch hitter, with a .321 legislative batting average.