The Jolt: A ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill emerges in Georgia

Days before a key legislative deadline, Georgia Republican state senators introduced a proposal modeled after Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill that aims to deter teachers from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom.

Senate Bill 613 stands little chance of passing this late in the legislative session, though its provisions could be spliced onto other proposals that have already gained traction.

Senior Republicans indicated that wouldn’t happen. Still, even if it is destined for the dustbin, the measure’s mere existence means it could be used as grist to energize conservatives on the campaign trail – and a trial balloon that sets the stage for more serious discussion next year.

Among its 10 co-sponsors are two candidates for higher office: Bruce Thompson, who is running for labor commissioner, and Burt Jones, who would be president of the state Senate if he’s elected lieutenant governor.

The senators introduced the legislation after Florida lawmakers gave final approval to a proposal that specifically forbids public school districts from teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity to students in kindergarten through third grade.

Georgia’s measure differs by singling out private schools that have “inappropriately discussed gender identity with children who have not yet reached the age of discretion.”

It would ban teachers in private schools from discussing “sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner not appropriate for the age and developmental stage of the student.”

The language also claims that private schools that base coursework in “critical theory” have decided to “segregate students, staff and parents by ethnicity, color, race and national origin.”

Combined ShapeCaption
State Sen. Burt Jones announces he is running for Georgia lieutenant governor during the 17th annual Floyd County GOP Rally at the Coosa Valley Fairgrounds on Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021 in Rome. (Photo: Troy Stolt / Chattanooga Times Free Press)

Credit: Troy Stolt/Chattanooga Times Fre

State Sen. Burt Jones announces he is running for Georgia lieutenant governor during the 17th annual Floyd County GOP Rally at the Coosa Valley Fairgrounds on Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021 in Rome. (Photo: Troy Stolt / Chattanooga Times Free Press)

Credit: Troy Stolt/Chattanooga Times Fre

Combined ShapeCaption
State Sen. Burt Jones announces he is running for Georgia lieutenant governor during the 17th annual Floyd County GOP Rally at the Coosa Valley Fairgrounds on Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021 in Rome. (Photo: Troy Stolt / Chattanooga Times Free Press)

Credit: Troy Stolt/Chattanooga Times Fre

Credit: Troy Stolt/Chattanooga Times Fre

Jones, who is running for Georgia’s No. 2 job with Donald Trump’s support, issued a statement outlining his endorsement of the bill.

“No teacher should be promoting gender identity discussions with small children in a classroom setting — which is exactly what this bill says and why I support it.”

Opponents of the initiative see it as an attempt to denigrate the LBTQ community. They also raise questions about wording that could include all publicly funded programs, despite the measure’s stated intent to focus solely on “private education.”

“GOP, get it through y’all’s heads that LGBTQ Georgians are not piñatas to bash in your campaign ads,” wrote state Rep. Matthew Wilson, an openly gay Democratic lawmaker who is running for insurance commissioner. “Your performative cruelty won’t erase us.”

It joins a long list of education-related proposals this year that has put Georgia classrooms on the front lines of culture wars. Gov. Brian Kemp said his office has been “very engaged” but he didn’t take a stand on the latest proposal.

“I believe at the end of the day I’ll be signing things that strike a very good balance that protects kids, brings transparency to parents but also continues to honor educators for the great job they’re doing.”

***

We got a peek at the remarks that Gov. Brian Kemp will make upon qualifying later this morning, and what stood out was what isn’t in his speech: Any mention of former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, his chief Republican rival.

Instead, the governor focuses on his archnemesis Stacey Abrams, the former Democratic lawmaker he narrowly defeated in 2018.

He also promotes his record as the state’s first lifelong Republican governor, touting efforts to restrict abortion and cut taxes.

Kemp will be the last big name to qualify when he formally fills out his paperwork. Abrams and Perdue have already signed up to run, as have Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, Republican Herschel Walker and other GOP candidates.

Candidates have also lined up for key statewide races and legislative contests, though we’re always on the lookout for more late entries.

***

The attacks on Republican Senate frontrunner Herschel Walker are starting to intensify. The Georgia First PAC launched a “Stop Herschel” website detailing the former football star’s history of violence and record of inflating business successes.

Walker, meanwhile, was in Orlando on Wednesday to speak to a Kentucky Fried Chicken convention, the latest in a string of private speaking engagements. Those closed-door meetings have infuriated some of his GOP opponents, who have assailed him for refusing to participate in Republican debates.

***

The U.S. House was thrown into disarray for much of Wednesday during partisan and sometimes intra-party fights over the $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill.

Part of the stalemate had to do with the way new coronavirus dollars would be funded by clawing back unspent dollars promised to states in the American Rescue Plan. That could have jeopardized about $400 million promised to Georgia, which was among the 30 states affected by the language.

Ultimately, the coronavirus relief language was pulled from the measure all together. But that didn’t stop Repulicans from complaining about other provisions, as well as the short time frame allowed to review the massive package which was released early Wednesday morning and brought up for a vote hours later.

Georgia Rep. Jody Hice forced a vote on a motion to adjourn the House in protest of the timing. It failed along party lines, but the Greensboro Republican said he wanted to make a point.

“Democrat leadership trying to shove a massive 1.5 TRILLION DOLLAR 2700+ page bill down our throats is a reckless disregard for congressional procedures,” he wrote on Twitter.

The House ultimately approved the omnibus, which was broken into two votes to allow Republicans to support the military and national defense provisions they like while opposing the rest. And there was also passage of a stopgap government funding bill to avoid a shutdown on Friday and give the Senate time to pass the omnibus.

All the last-minute maneuvering to get the funding bills passed overshadowed the reality that earmarks were included in a spending plan for the first time since then House Speaker John Boehner ended the practice in 2011.

All of the Democrats in Georgia delegations plus two of eight Republicans, Reps. Barry Loudermilk and Buddy Carter, participated in the earmark process this year. And all of them now have projects that received funding that they can boast about to voters during the election year.

Read the full update here about all of the Wednesday chaos and a list of some of the largest Georgia projects contained in the package.

***

Members of the U.S. House overwhelmingly supported a bill that would ban the import of Russian oil, coal and natural gas by a vote of 414-17.

Lawmakers had pushed to enact new sanctions against Russia after its attacks on Ukraine continue.

Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene was the only delegation member who opposed the bill, saying on Twitter that it should have been accompanied with provisions to lower gas prices in the U.S.

“Democrats have NO plan to reduce gas prices after banning Russian oil,” she wrote on Twitter. “Buying oil from Iran or Venezuela, who will buy weapons from Russia with our money. Make America Energy Independent Again!”

***

In endorsement news:

  • Bee Nguyen, the front-runner in the Democratic primary for Georgia’s secretary of state, announced a list of 100 endorsers as she qualified for the race. Her backers included elected officials like state Sens. Elena Parent and Nan Orrock, state Reps. Matthew Wilson and Park Cannon, and Fulton Sheriff Patrick Labat.
  • Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr. announced he is backing former state Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler, a Democrat, in the Secretary of State race. But as of Wednesday night, Dawkins-Haigler was not listed as one of the qualified candidates the race.
  • Conservative TV and radio host Sean Hannity is backing Jake Evans in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District GOP primary.

As always, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to patricia.murphy@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com and greg.bluestein@ajc.com.

Sign Up to receive the Morning Jolt & AJC Politics newsletters in your inbox.