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Georgia senators prepare for anti-discrimination legislation in 2022

Augusta: Jessye Norman Amphitheater. (Photo from wikimedia.org)

By David Pendered

Georgia state senators have begun talks on a potential statewide proposal to prohibit discrimination in housing, jobs, accommodations and more.

Legislation to ban discrimination is among the possible bills lawmakers are discussing in advance of the General Assembly’s next session, which begins Jan. 10, 2022. The topic is ripe, as lawmakers establish the cultural touchstones to debate in the 2022 campaigns.

The trigger for the Senate discussion of the “lack of uniformity in non-discrimination laws” was the rising number of local governments in Georgia that are enacting non-discrimination ordinances, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Strickland (R-McDonough) said at the start of the committee’s Nov. 16 meeting.

Augusta, on Nov. 16, became Georgia’s 14th city to pass a non-discrimination ordinance. In October, Tucker Mayor Frank Auman reversed his opposition to such an ordinance as it became an issue in his reelection campaign. Auman introduced and won passage in October of a non-binding non-discrimination pledge, and asked three City Councilmembers to draft a non-discrimination ordinance.

Atlanta attorney Gerry Weber, who’s practiced and taught civil rights law for over 30 years, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Weber said a statewide civil rights law would be a “giant leap forward.”

“What we have now is a crazy quilt, with confusion about what geographic boundaries apply, what businesses can do if they are in some places with an anti-discrimination law, and other places where they operate with not anti-discrimiation law,” Weber said.

Georgia cities that create non-discrimination codes are part of a growing movement across the country. Since 2012, the number of cities that scored 100 on the Municipal Equality Index has grown from 11 to 110 cities, according to the annual survey by the Human Rights Campaign, released Nov. 18.

Atlanta was Georgia’s first city to pass a non-discrimination ordinance, more than two decades ago and has maintained a score of 100 for several years. Next to adopt was Doraville, in 2018, followed in 2019 by Decatur, Clarkston, Chamblee, and Dunwoody. Brookhaven, East Point, Savannah, Smyrna, Statesboro and Hapeville enacted non-discrimination ordinances in 2020. This year, Athens/Clarke County passed such an ordinance, according to a report by Georgia Equality.

The committee heard from five speakers, all of whom supported a statewide non-discrimination law:

  • Weber, a civil rights lawyer and advocate
  • Jeff Graham, of Georgia Equality
  • The Rev. William Flippen, a minister with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
  • Rabbi Lydia Medwin, of the Temple, in Midtown
  • David Garcia, director of policy and advocacy for the GALEO Impact Fund, which advocates for Georgia’s Latino community

“Almost 1.3 million Georgians, or 12 percent, are now protected against discrimination,”  Graham, said Wednesday. “Not just LGBTQ, but discrimination on the basis of race, religion national origin, age, sex, veteran status and others.”

Though no statewide legislation related to anti-discrimination has been introduced at the Capitol, Strickland said the time was right to start a discussion. Senators had availability, during the lull between voting on redistricting proposals in the special session that ended Monday.

“This is a chance to a get a head start on things,” Strickland said at the outset of the Judiciary Committee meeting.

“I know we’ve discussed in Georgia, numerous times, different ideas of non-discrimination laws, religious freedom laws,” Strickland said. “Meantime, we’ve seen local governments act and pass legislation locally to address this. So, while we have time, I thought it would be good if we had a discussion about what’s happening around our state in the event there are bills filed on these issues as we go into session [in 2022].”

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David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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