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Georgia Rabbi for LGBT Non-Discrimination: Everyone is entitled to the same freedoms Rabbi Peter Berg ~ Atlanta, GA
After Hours of Testimony, Senate Judiciary Committee Members Fail to Fix, Refuse to Advance HB 159 March 24, 2017

Yesterday, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee took the coward’s way out.

After spoiling a strong adoption bill (HB 159)—which had advanced out of the House with bipartisan support—with anti-LGBT amendments, the Senate Judiciary Committee was given a second chance to do the right thing and fix the bill.

HB 159 was slated for a second hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. This would have been the moment for Senators to fix the bill by removing the anti-LGBT amendments. Instead, before the day even started, there were rumors percolating that certain committee members—led by Senator William Ligon—were planning to double down on the discriminatory components of the legislation.

There were hours of testimony on HB 159 in support of removing discriminatory amendments and advancing a clean bill, including from Kathy Colbenson, CEO of CHRIS 180 (an organization that provides mental health and trauma services to children in the foster care system), Rev. Beth LaRocca-Pitts, senior pastor at Saint Mark United Methodist Church, and Melissa Carter, Executive Director of the Barton Child Law and Policy Center.

By the end of the day it was clear that the Senate Judiciary Committee would not take measures to fix the legislation. But in an unexpected turn of events, the committee adjourned for the day without voting on the anti-LGBT legislation at all.

Now, what was otherwise a strong adoption bill—which could have been easily resurrected by removing discriminatory anti-LGBT components—is effectively dead in the water for 2017.

“It is unfortunate that a handful of senators have decided to hold hostage such an important and needed piece of legislation, rather than setting aside a blatant attempt to write LGBT discrimination into law.” -Jeff Graham, Georgia Unites

Jeff Graham, the head of the Georgia Unites Against Discrimination coalition, condemned this cowardly move, saying: “Thank you for all who have taken action over the past week. It is unfortunate that a handful of senators have decided to hold hostage such an important and needed piece of legislation, rather than setting aside a blatant attempt to write LGBT discrimination into law. While it appears that no further action on HB 159 will take place this year, the bill has not been officially tabled and could therefore be forwarded to the Senate for a vote at any point between now and sine die.”

As amended, the tainted version of HB 159 would have allowed adoption agencies to discriminate against and refuse to work with same-sex couples and prospective LGBT parents looking to give children in need a loving and forever home. Critics of the tainted bill ranged from LGBT advocates to leading national child welfare organizations to Republican Governor Nathan Deal.

Not only did the amended legislation allow for explicit state-sanctioned discrimination against LGBT people. It jeopardized hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding to Georgia’s hamstrung adoption and foster care systems, according to the Division of Family and Children Services. And it put the lives of the 12,000 orphans and children in the foster system on the line by needlessly restricting the pool of prospective parents and families.

Georgia’s adoption code hasn’t been updated since 1990. According to a recent analysis by the AJC, there has been wariness among state lawmakers to advance adoption legislation because of concerns it would be perverted and used as a vehicle for advancing anti-LGBT discrimination in Georgia. Now, despite bipartisan support for updating the state’s archaic adoption laws, and a strong majority support for LGBT equality across Georgia—a select few lawmakers have wasted an opportunity to do what was right: Fix and pass HB 159.

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For #BiWeek, we’re lifting up the story of Beth Sherouse, an LGBT advocate and proud Georgian who hails from ATL: bit.ly/2jNdEKc

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