Legislation that could have allowed businesses and individuals to use religion to discriminate failed Thursday night in Georgia following a national backlash to similar laws that passed in Indiana and Arkansas.
"Religious freedom is a fundamental American value, but the debate around Indiana has made it crystal-clear that it should not serve as a smokescreen for authorizing discrimination or letting individuals use their religious beliefs to harm others,” said Louise Melling, deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union. “The conversation has forced politicians to reconsider policies that could allow discrimination and harm to countless people by denying them access to basic rights, such as employment, health care, or education."
A bill passed today by Georgia’s House of Representatives includes important and far-reaching reforms of the state’s abuse-ridden for-profit probation industry, Human Rights Watch, the national American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia (ACLU of GA) said today. The bill will next be considered by the state Senate.
House Bill 310’s provisions on private probation represent months of hard work by Governor Nathan Deal’s Criminal Justice Reform Council to address what its co-chair has called the “moral imperative” to deal with the “inequities and abuses” of the state’s for-profit probation industry.
Declare an emergency session of the State Legislature to limit the use of SWAT to situations in which it's truly necessary to save a life. We cannot wait till the next regular session in 2015.
Nearly 80% of the SWAT raids the ACLU studied* were to serve search warrants, usually in drug cases. SWAT teams are forcing their way into people’s homes, often in the middle of the night, using paramilitary weapons and tactics and doing needless damage to people and property. Poor communities and communities of color bear the brunt of this unnecessary force.
It does not have to be this way. We can make sure that police honor their mission to protect and serve, by ensuring that hyper-aggressive military tools and tactics are only used in situations that are truly “high risk.”
Right now, a twenty-month-old toddler named Baby Bou Bou is recovering after a flashbang grenade thrown by a SWAT officer in Georgia exploded in his crib. The grenade blew a hole in his chest that has yet to heal. Doctors are still unable to fully assess lasting brain damage. This unnecessary tragedy demands immediate action.
Community members, faith leaders, and elected officials across the aisles are building a movement to limit the use of SWAT to situations in which such aggressive tactics are truly necessary to save a life. This would be the first effort of its kind and set a precedent for other states.
We need to let the Georgia legislature know that people across the country are watching. Baby Bou Bou’s case is one of many casualties of a drug war that is being fought with heavy artillery and waning public support, mainly in poor communities and communities of color. If we can urge Georgia to pass a landmark bill, that will be a crucial first step in the right direction to limit the excessive use of SWAT across the country.
Will you call on the Georgia state legislature to address this problem now, before more kids lose their lives because of this excessive militarization?
Just before the close of Georgia’s 2014 legislative session last week, the state’s General Assembly granted final approval to a law that would allow state workers to drug test food stamp recipients. The law, H.B. 772, now awaits the signature of Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican.
An earlier version of the bill would have made drug testing mandatory for all food stamp recipients, but members of the House changed the bill’s wording after a federal judge ruled that a similar law in Florida violated the Fourth Amendment. To avoid the same fate, H.B. 772 was rewritten to require “reasonable suspicion” that a food stamp recipient was using illegal drugs before caseworkers could order a drug test.
Georgia lawmakers just held back a crazy bill that would have removed drivers' licenses from a group of immigrants, including women fleeing abusive relationships. Many young female DREAMers are also hugely relieved.
The Georgia state legislature closed its session on March 20 and many immigrant women here heaved a sigh of relief. A trip to the grocery store or work or school won't mean risking arrest.
Hard to believe, but a small group of state lawmakers here recently tried to take away drivers' licenses from a group of people in the state with "deferred action" status under federal immigration procedures.
Those at risk included DREAMers with work permits under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and certain other people, including victims of domestic violence, with deferred action status granted for other reasons.
Georgia is the latest state to consider legislation that could sanction discrimination in the name of religious freedom.
There are two versions of the Georgia bill – a state House version, HB 1023, and a state Senate version, SB 377. Both would affirm the “right to act or refuse to act in a manner substantially motivated by a sincerely held religious tenet or belief whether or not the exercise is compulsory or a central part or requirement of the person’s religious tenets or beliefs.” Where those beliefs conflict with local, state or federal law, the government would have to prove that the law is meant to pursue a “a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”
Which of these groups does not belong with the others: the ACLU, the tea party, Common Cause or Americans for Prosperity?
If you think they could all fit in a coalition under the Gold Dome, give yourself a peach-colored star.
This era is known for its polarization in Washington, and Georgians on the left and the right certainly have their differences about how state legislators should address certain issues. But unlike in national politics, diverse coalitions still can and do emerge on high-profile state issues.
The ACLU and Common Cause have reputations as liberal groups, particularly nationally; the tea party and Americans for Prosperity lean solidly to the right. But representatives of those four outfits, along with the libertarian Institute for Justice, are pushing legislators to change Georgia’s civil asset forfeiture laws -- which allow law enforcement to confiscate private property without a criminal conviction, or in many cases even a criminal charge.
A South Georgia lawmaker will propose next month a bill that would allow the construction of a monument outside the Georgia Capitol featuring the 10 Commandments.
Vidalia Republican Rep. Greg Morris wants the monument to be built where the statue of former Sen. Tom Watson used to be.
By KATE BRUMBACK
The Associated Press
Some quiet changes to a bill that was intended as a simple fix for unintended consequences of a 2011 crackdown on illegal immigration have turned the bill that originally had pretty universal support into a rallying point for activists on all sides of the immigration issue.
The bill sponsored by state Rep. Dustin Hightower, R-Carrollton, was presented as a solution to complaints from several state agencies that Georgia's 2011 law was creating extra work and delays in processing public benefits, including professional licenses.
But the amended bill passed by the House Monday would effectively deny driver's licenses to young people who were brought here illegally as children and who have been granted temporary permission to stay and work here under an Obama administration initiative. It also would bar illegal immigrants from being able to get a marriage license or access water and sewage services in the state.
Though the amendments would affect relatively few people, the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia is quickly organizing efforts to protest the bill.
"All of a sudden, we're confronted with all of these damaging changes," the ACLU's Azadeh Shahshahani said. "These are all additional complications and burdens that we don't need."
The Dustin Inman Society, which pushes for stronger laws targeting illegal immigration and stricter enforcement of existing laws, sent out an email blast to supporters urging them to call their lawmakers to tell them to keep Hightower's bill intact and to defeat a more limited Senate version of the bill.
Though Hightower says he didn't initially realize the potential effects of the changes, he hasn't said whether he intends to take them out. He said the additions to his bill weren't meant to dupe anyone, that they were intended to streamline the legislative process.
"The original intent of this bill was to be something to facilitate people obtaining and keeping a professional license in a much easier fashion," he said, adding that it was also meant to preserve taxpayer-funded public benefits for U.S. citizens and other eligible legal residents.
Georgia's 2011 law targeting illegal immigration requires anyone applying for or renewing public benefits — like professional licenses, welfare and unemployment benefits — to provide a "secure and verifiable" document proving their U.S. citizenship or legal presence in the country.
People in the country illegally have long been ineligible for Georgia driver's licenses. But after the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program took effect in August, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens declared that those with deferred status could get a temporary driver's license.
However, the advisory opinion Olens issued at Gov. Nathan Deal's request seems to indicate that those in the federal program are not eligible for state identity cards, because those IDs are subject to the law governing public benefits. The pending legislation adds "state issued driver's licenses" to the list of public benefits.
Hightower said he didn't know whether his bill denies driver's licenses to those granted deferred action, and said that wasn't his specific intent. But he didn't say if that was something he'd be in favor of or if he'd reconsider the addition of driver's licenses to the list of public benefits.
The 2011 law charged the state attorney general's office with creating a list of documents that government agencies could accept if they require identification for an official purpose. The list currently includes foreign passports, the only document on the list that those in the country illegally would be able to obtain legitimately.
By removing foreign passports from the list unless they're accompanied by federal immigrationdocumentation, the new bill would technically prevent illegal immigrants from getting a marriage license in Georgia or from accessing water and sewage service in the many municipalities that require identification to turn on service.
Hightower said the possibility of preventing illegal immigrants from obtaining marriage licenses and access to water and sewer services was not intentional. Since being made aware of that issue, he's looking at what can be done to resolve it, he said.
Copyright The Associated Press