ATLANTA (AP) — A divisive religious freedom bill remains stalled in a Georgia House committee as lawmakers enter the final two days of the legislative session surrounded by pressure from supporters and critics who say the bill can be used as a defense for discrimination against gay or transgender people.
The House Judiciary Committee was expected to meet Monday morning and take up the bill, but the session was canceled. Members tabled the bill last week after Republican Rep. Mike Jacobs of Brookhaven attached anti-discrimination language.
No meetings of the committee have been announced for the remainder of the week, but it still could convene at any time and vote to again consider Republican state Sen. Josh McKoon's proposal.
That uncertainty has all parties ramping up their efforts.
Mike Griffin, spokesman for the Georgia Baptist Convention, said a group of pastors and others in favor of the bill unsuccessfully tried to get meetings Monday with Gov. Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston at the Capitol.
"We are trying to get legislation that mirrors the 1993 federal (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) — nothing more, nothing less," Griffin said. "We don't want a placebo; we want a real RFRA."
Meanwhile, opponents announced plans for a noon rally as floor action resumes Tuesday.
"We're definitely on guard," Georgia Equality's executive director Jeff Graham said. "The intent of the bill is crystal clear. They're trying to find a vehicle to undermine local, municipal legislation that protects the gay and transgender community against discrimination, and I feel that they actually are trying to set the stage to avoid enactment of civil rights legislation statewide or federally sometime in the future."
The measure is similar to those being considered in at least 13 states, including Indiana, where Republican Gov. Mike Pence has been criticized for not answering questions about whether that state's new law allows discrimination. National gay rights organizations have said the widespread introduction of such bills is tied to the U.S. Supreme Court's preparations for a decision on gay marriage.
The Georgia bill would forbid government from infringing on a person's religious beliefs unless the government can prove a compelling interest. It would cover individuals and closely held corporations. McKoon and other supporters have said the bill is modeled on 1993's RFRA and argue that the federal law and versions in other states have never been used to successfully defend discrimination.
Opponents wanted anti-discrimination language to ensure that the bill could not be used as legal cover for violating federal, state or local law. Georgia does not have a law preventing discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity, but Atlanta is among municipalities with local protection.
Supporters of the bill said adding the language would "gut" protection for people acting on religious beliefs.
Georgia law sets a 40 day working session for the General Assembly. Lawmakers plan to adjourn by midnight Thursday.