Georgia Assembly 2020 session opens, but controversy looms

This week starts the 2020 session of the Georgia General Assembly. Similar to sessions of the past few years, at least one bill has been filed meant to draw support from social conservatives. 

In 2016, Gov. Nathan Deal (R-GA) vetoed a religious liberty bill after significant pressure from corporate and film industry interests. Last year, a senate bill introduced by Sen. Marty Harbin (R-16) styled after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act stalled in committee. The controversial fetal heartbeat was signed by Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) last year, but was subsequently blocked by a federal judge in October.   

The appetite to pick up religious liberty or other difficult social issues remains to be seen, especially given difficult re-election bids expected later this year. To date, no such case of religious discrimination has been identified in Georgia that would not have already been protected by the federal law. In other words, that specific legislation sought to duplicately cure an issue before it ever existed.  

Further complicating this session will be a budget battle compelled by Gov. Kemp’s direction to trim 4% of state agency budgets for the remainder of this fiscal year. Beginning July 1, 2020 that direction will increase to 6%. In 2018,   

By April 3, 2020, when this session calls Sine Die, that will be known. At least one hot button bill has been introduced by Sharpsburg Republican Representative Phillip Singleton (R-71) titled as the Student Athlete Protection Act or HB 747. 

According to his press release

“The purpose of the Student Athlete Protection Act is to preserve the integrity of athletic competition and protect our youth,” said Rep. Singleton. “This legislation would not dictate how organizations define their sports, but it would give children and parents peace of mind, as well as provide children with the freedom to participate in athletic competitions fairly and with the competition they expected when they chose to compete. While this is not currently a hot button issue in our great state, this legislation would serve as a preemptive measure to ensure that every single student athlete in Georgia has the ability to compete in fair and open competition. The point here is to make sure that every child has the opportunity to compete. This is about inclusion and transparency.”

The Student Athlete Protection Act would prohibit state, county, municipality or other local government entity, such as public recreation centers or public schools, from hosting or utilizing its facilities for athletic competitions in which a person who is not a biological male is allowed to participate in athletic events conducted exclusively for males as well as a person who is not a biological female is allowed to participate in athletic events conducted exclusively for females. These facilities would include athletic facilities, stadiums, fields, structures or other property.”

In response to the proposed legislation, Georgia Equality released a statement of opposition was provided by WXIA:

The introduction of this legislation is a shameful attack on some of the most vulnerable students, those who identify as transgender. Transgender people are human beings, who exist in every facet of our society, and have for years and years. Transgender athletes participate in sports for the same reasons as everyone else – to get and stay healthy, be part of a team, be a part of a sport they love, and build camaraderie with their peers.

There’s a reason why the opposition is just now trying to bring up the sports argument – they’re using it as a wedge issue, plain and simple. It’s particularly heartbreaking when politicians attempt to attack transgender high schoolers. Growing up is hard enough for everyone, and it can be particularly painful for transgender students. The last thing our nation’s young people need is politicians making it even harder by singling them out for their own political gain, and increasing their already high risk of bullying and harassment.

Many transgender youth already face an uphill battle in nearly every part of their lives. Research has found that 75% of transgender youth feel unsafe at school. Nearly half of transgender youth attempt suicide, and the transgender community is increasingly the target of violence and harassment. Sports can be a powerful tool for fighting depression, building community, and cultivating lasting self-confidence.

These attacks seek to deny the humanity and existence of transgender individuals and must be rejected. Trans youth — like all youth — need support and care. We need to send a clear and unequivocal message to trans youth that their lives are valid and that they are equal members of their communities.

Additional consideration will be given as the session advances.

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