Another attempt at a state Religious Freedom Restoration Act, filed last week and scheduled for consideration Monday in a state Senate committee, may not get considered this year thanks to its sponsor asking for and receiving an indefinite delay on a hearing.
State Sen. Marty Harbin, R- Tyrone, submitted Senate Bill 221 on Wednesday. By the time it came around to a hearing Monday in the Senate Judiciary Committee, the meeting — scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. — was already creeping into the afternoon with nearly two hours spent on other legislation.
“For three years or more, we have been dealing with the issue, and my presentation this morning — or this afternoon, as you would tell me — is probably 20-25 minutes to really deal with the comparison of the federal law versus the state law of RFRA,” Harbin said.
Committee Chairman Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, told Harbin there was still a substantial audience at the hearing, but Harbin said a number of people had already left, and that he would like to work to see if there was another opportunity to present the bill.
“I think that would be a wise decision,” Stone said.
In a media scrum following the hearing, Harbin said he still hoped the bill could be heard before the crossover deadline this week.
“I can’t tell you — as Indiana Jones said, ‘I’m making it up as I go,’” Harbin said. “I’m going to find a way, if I can, to try to make it happen.”
In a subsequent released statement, Harbin said that he and the bill’s other supporters may have to take advantage of the biennial nature of the state legislature and put their full efforts to pass the bill next year.
State Sen. William Ligon, R-White Oak, is a co-sponsor of S.B. 221.
Meanwhile in the House, state Rep. Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island, got his first bill passed by the chamber — House Bill 201.
“It requires live-aboard folks on vessels in the state’s estuaries to do pump-outs,” Hogan said. “Now, pump-outs is requiring them to take the raw sewage off of their live-aboards and pump that out of holding tanks that are aboard their vessels, and monitored by DNR. The other thing that it does is allows (the state Department of Natural Resources) to establish mooring areas for vessels that are coming up and down the coast, and allowing them to moor or anchor in the mooring areas.”
Essentially, people on these vessels cannot just discharge their waste into the estuary. Along with giving DNR the power to establish mooring areas, it provides for the agency to declare areas where anchorage isn’t allowed.
House Majority Whip Trey Kelley, R-Cedartown — a friend of Hogan’s who sat next to him during the last session — gave him a little bit of ribbing on the House floor.
Kelley said, “What does it say about your legislative career that your first bill deals with human excrement?”
Hogan replied, “Well, I’ve been around you a lot.”
H.B. 201 passed with a vote of 162-1.
The House also took up Monday its version of a new state anti-human trafficking law. The Senate passed its version last week. State Rep. Chuck Eftstration, R-Dacula, spoke on this bill — H.B. 234 — of which he’s the lead sponsor.
“I’m incredibly proud of this legislation — as many of you know, I’ve worked over the past few years on anti-human trafficking legislation, and in many of our efforts, we’ve really tried to come at the problem from different directions,” Efstration said. “And I’m proud to report Georgia is no longer regarded as one of the top states with human trafficking issues, because of the outstanding legislation that this body has passed, making us a model for other states throughout the country.
“But the problem does still exist, and this protective response act really works to address the underlying causes of human trafficking, those who benefit or allow for it to take place, and then also how the child victims are treated. I think this comprehensive approach is such an exciting legislative measure to bring to you — I worked on this throughout the offseason, so this bill that you review here today is really from many hours of meeting with advocates, law enforcement officials, child social services officers, and many, many others.”
He also said he’s grateful and appreciative of the bipartisan recognition of the issue and the desire to work together on behalf of the children of the state.
“There’s been a great deal of discussion about child victims — should child victims be susceptible to be charged with a crime?” Efstration said. “And with this act, we’re sending a clear message that child victims are victims and should receive treatment, and should not be treated as criminals.”
State Rep. Andy Welch, R-McDonough, added in his remarks to remember the need for rehabilitation of the victims of these crimes.
“It costs anywhere from $90,000-$100,000 to rehabilitate a child who has suffered under human trafficking,” Welch said. “So, please keep that in mind as we move forward in the years to come, and as we set our budgets in the years to come.”
H.B. 234 passed with a vote of 167-0.
Late in Monday’s meeting of the full House, Speaker of the House David Ralston announced that H.B. 426, which would establish a new state hate crimes law, was not going to the floor that day and instead was rescheduled for today’s session.