ATLANTA (AP) — A divisive religious freedom bill stalled Thursday in a Georgia House committee after a Republican member of the panel successfully added anti-discrimination language to the proposal.
Members of the Judiciary Committee voted to table the bill immediately after nine lawmakers on the panel supported the addition from Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Brookhaven. Two other Republicans also voted in favor.
Supporters of the bill said the change swallows the legal protection it is intended to provide for people acting on their religious beliefs.
"This is the amendment which will gut this bill," Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, said before the vote on Jacobs' amendment. He then urged other Republicans on the panel "not to do something which will cause several of us to have to vote no."
Opponents of the measure from Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, have pushed for anti-discrimination language to ensure the bill could not be used as legal cover for such treatment of gays and transgender people.
Jacobs said the majority of emails he's received from his metro Atlanta district were from people opposed to the bill.
"I take at face value the statements of the proponents that they do not intend discrimination with this bill," Jacobs said. "I also believe if that's the case we as the General Assembly should state that expressly in the bill."
McKoon's bill would forbid government from infringing on a person's religious beliefs unless the government can prove a compelling interest and would cover individuals and closely held corporations. Critics say such measures are being considered in 13 states as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares for a possible ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.
Some Georgia business interests made their strongest negative comments yet on the bill Thursday, while other opponents pointed to Indiana companies and convention organizers warning of economic harm in that state following Gov. Mike Pence signing a similar measure.
Jim Sprouse, executive director of the Georgia Hotel and Lodging Association, said the issue boils down to the perception of Georgia as an "unwelcoming state" by convention site-selectors if the bill were to pass.
"Please don't discount the importance of that perception," he said.
The measure does have a narrow path forward. McKoon overcame a similar roadblock in a Senate committee before the chamber overwhelmingly supported the bill in a floor vote.
Committees can resume debate on tabled bills, but lawmakers plan to wrap up the 40-day session by midnight of April 2.